12-16 April 2012; DCA
While all directors must hope that their debut feature will be a resounding success reminiscent of Orson Welles’sCitizen Kane (1941), this is rarely going to be the case. Many debuts will be low budget disappointments that nonetheless might show a glimmer of talent and potential. However, sometimes a debut film appears that has enough confidence and skill that it does not need that qualifying label as a crutch and can, simply on its own merits, be classed as a great film. Writer and director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s debut feature, Neighbouring Sounds, falls within this category.
Neighbouring Sounds tells the stories of the residents of a street in the Brazilian city of Recife, and that location might be one of the film’s greatest strengths for a metropolitan audience. The plot, while never boring, is in some places rather slowpaced, but this very different world in which the characters live always keeps the audience engaged, and in ways that it would not if the film was set closer to home. The streets filled with security guards and barred doors intrigue those with only a casual knowledge of Brazil and make the film highly interesting from a cultural point of view.
That on its own of course is not enough to constituteNeighbouring Sounds’ appeal. The world the film immerses us in is filled with various interconnected stories that on their own are insignificant but, placed together, create an atmosphere of tension and make it impossible to tear your eyes from the screen. These situations all seem very real due to the use of unobtrusive camera work that never distracts you from the film, almost no non-diegetic sound and the great script. Filho’s experience with documentary film is highly apparently here as Neighbouring Sounds feels just like a real examination of the lives of this neighbourhood. The acting is similarly very impressive, with the entire ensemble cast giving completely believable performances. All these factors add to make a film whose authenticity the audience will at no point question. This is one of the rare films in which a viewer truly forgets they are watching a fiction and believes entirely in the rich world it portrays.
Unfortunately, a writer and director’s first film is, of course, not likely to be perfect The film is never boring, but it could have been improved by shortening the film’s length and increasing its pacing a little. While this might not put off any avid film fan, a casual viewer may find the film lacking in tension. Other small issues affect the film: some plot threads fade out with little or no resolution and there are a couple of strange time jumps that leave the viewer somewhat disorientated and missing developments that affect continuity.. All of these, however, are minor issues that do not take much away from the overall enjoyment of the film. Given the overwhelming strengths of Neighbouring Sounds, they can readily be forgiven.
This film manages to immerse the audience in its world and make them care about the characters in a way few other features achieve. While the slow pace and faintly Neo-Realist style may not be to the taste of all viewers, for those who do enjoy this kind of cinema Neighbouring Sounds is a rare treat.