Starring: Irma Brown, Sebastião Formiga, Gustavo Jahn
You may like this if you liked: Home (Muzaffer Özdemir, 2011), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011), Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)
Neighbouring Sounds tells the intertwining lives and individual stories of the middle class residents of a street in Recife, Brazil’s fifth largest city. With their own personal anxieties and fears in a country dominated by class division and fear, they hire a private security firm to look after their street which brings both feelings of safety but new anxieties.
For me personally, Neighbouring Sounds is at its most effective when you think about it after seeing the whole film. In fact while writing this review I have grown to like the film even more as I have thought about it. This may be partly down to its ‘unconventional’ narrative; do not expect character arcs or narrative closure. For me this is an extremely effective depiction of themes that dominate throughout the narrative. These themes are of fear and anxiety that appear to be an everyday occurrences living in a Brazilian city. This is also a fascinating depiction of a different Brazil that most of us in the Developed World rarely see. We are used to seeing stories of the poverty and drugs of the shanty towns, but as one of the worlds emerging markets Brazil will inevitably have a growing middle class. Neighbouring Sounds provides in my opinion a compelling and almost educational exploration of a society that is evolving and the new social challenges this new Brazil faces. The middle classes may have the wealth, but still their lives seem to be dominated by as much anxiety, paranoia, uncertainty and fear as those suffering poverty. In fact it seems that having money only brings more worry into their lives.
The tower blocks the characters live in feel and look like expensive prisons, characterless dull grey buildings that even have bars on the windows. The films camera work depicts perfectly this feeling of isolation and claustrophobia with many scenes behind fences and grated doors. At 131 minutes this is a long film and does require effort and attention. If you have had a long day and are feeling wiped then I would not recommend sticking this on, but if you want a film that challenges and informs in equal measure using subtle cinematic techniques then this fits that criteria perfectly. I must confess that when watching it I found certain scenes a little boring and did not see the point at the time. However it was then when analysing the film overall that I realise that actually every scene is significant at exploring the narrative’s central themes and ideas. Each character’s individual story and place in the power structure of this street when taken into context of the entire film appears to possibly represent the changes that Brazil as a whole is facing as a developing economy. Some of these characters concerns seem a little pathetic in the grand scheme of things showing that maybe some of these people live a hollow and sheltered existence that can come with never having money problems. However, life always presents problems and challenges and sometimes having money can generate different and sometimes more challenging problems, especially in such a divided society like Brazil.
There are a few moments that show the past and aerial shots showing the shanty towns that are literally next door the other side of a huge fence. This shows a country divided where a majority of the population are being left behind and this will only inevitably cause a divided and conflicted society, pretty much run on fear. The characters who work for the security firm have their own individual stories to tell and also play a significant role in several plot developments, but I will not reveal those of course.
Neighbouring Sounds does require effort and patience, but this is amply rewarded by a film that explores one universal theme, fear. Using sound, camera work and metaphors to maximum effect, this is a film that provides a fascinating and informative exploration of an expanding social class in Brazil and perhaps also the shallowness of thinking anyone can buy happiness and peace of mind.