Neighboring Sounds: The Anxiety of Affluence 

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Neighboring Sounds
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho

From the opening of this Brazilian film, it’s clear that the gulf between the rich and the poor is at the very foundation of its setting, a single block in the coastal town of Recife: black-and-white photos of oppressive sugarcane-plantation life give way to a follow-shot of a young girl rollerblading through a labyrinthine parking structure. Indoors, two young people eat breakfast while a pushing-60 maid toils in the well-stocked kitchen; on the street below, police question men blasting music from their pushcarts.

Writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho, making his narrative-feature debut, burrows into the anxiety of affluence, tracking a handful of parallel stories while also zooming in on a wealth of activity on the pavement and in the narrow spaces between buildings. Easy-mannered João (Gustavo Jahn) embarks on a new romance between apartment showings and tenant meetings; stay-at-home mom Bia (Maeve Jinkings), kept awake by a snoring husband and the whimpering guard dog next door, withdraws into spaced-out possessiveness; the frontman of a fledgling security outfit, the hard-to-read Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos), shows up one day to pass out flyers, right after a rash of car break-ins. The residents are receptive to the idea of locking down their peace of mind, and Clodoaldo and his associate have a final-approval summit with landlord Francisco (S.J. Solha), who tells them to keep away from his CD-player-swiping grandson Dinho (Yuri Holanda), also João's cousin.

Throughout the film, we see the tower-block inhabitants regard maids, doormen, and other service workers with outright contempt, or else a more circumspect distrust, while the real resident-lowlife gets immunity by dint of his good breeding. As presented here, the space’s aggressive subdivision also suggests the community’s corrupted values. Fences, metal window gratings, and immaculate white-tiled walls stand overlapping guard against muffled sounds of uncertain origin. Early on, Mendonça cuts from a cluster of skyscrapers to a similar formation of empty beer bottles on a glass table. The move is typical of the force and economy of his filmmaking. In just a couple of brief shots, Mendonça telegraphs the tenants’ (suspiciously active) panic that their high-rise citadels are in fact much less impenetrable than they appear.

Opens August 24

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