Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cineworld Day 2: Neighboring Sounds

     As I left today's screening of Neighboring Sounds, I felt so impacted by it that I wanted to get all of my thoughts written while they were still fresh. Immediately after, I drove to Panera Bread and began typing this post. Hence today's post is my review for Neighboring Sounds and yesterday's films will be revisited in my posts to come.

Neighboring Sounds * * * ½

     Never has a film's title been so perfectly exemplified and explained in its opening moments. The film opens on a black screen and neighborhood sounds can be heard in the background. Ominous music builds to a swell accompanying these sounds as the screen is brightened by black and white images of Brazil. A tracking shot following neighborhood children at play breaks this stillness and introduces action to the screen, announcing and defining what will become the film's signature camera style of fluidity and movement. The sounds of the children's play build to a roar as an abrasive screech grows louder and louder in the background. This symphony of music, voices, and organic noise builds to a crescendo as the camera reveals a man with a power tool working with iron on the other side of the playground's gate.

     This juxtaposition of imagery and sound will be the tool first-time-feature-director Kleber Mendonca Filho utilizes to accomplish Neighboring Sounds' plot. Filho will employ concurrent juxtaposition (as sounds and sights simultaneously occur in contrast) along with consecutive juxtaposition implicated through the idea of the "residue" of actions and noises: For instance, when a nude couple rushes from a large couch to keep from being seen by the young children who then go to sit on the very same couch and watch TV. An even more impactful suggestion of "sound residue" is made when the same couple wanders through the ruins of an abandoned cinema and hears the sound of the projector's click and the soundtrack's screams. In a story where the privileged do everything in their power to avoid the rabble and remain safe from their apparent dangers, this idea of lingering actions and sounds demonstrates that there is no "safe" place -danger lingers in the residue.

     The plot, split into three titled parts all including the word "guard", revolves around the word "safety". The neighborhood referenced by the film's title is mostly owned and seemingly run by a family real-estate empire long presided over by its enigmatic patriarch. The juxtaposition between the family's luxurious condos and the small barred-up homes of the less fortunate is starkly embodied in an areal shot of the neighborhood seen from the top of one of the high-rises. Walls and gates (that are eventually over-run in an unnerving dream sequence) separate the the well-to-do high-rise residents from the poorer inhabitants of the neighborhood. Walls that don't exist can't be over-run though. By isolating themselves, creating their own world within the world they actually inhabit, erecting walls to protect their class purity, the condo residents create something to be invaded. They set themselves apart as a faction. Where there are no factions there is unity. And unity cannot produce war. As a faction though, they invite war. As the story progresses, dangerous and violent undercurrents of an impending social invasion or class war seem to lurk beneath the film's and neighborhood's surface (i.e. when two sisters attack one another seemingly unprovoked, when a car's window is cut out and the stereo stolen).

     An ensemble cast populates the film but two characters and their stories emerge as central: Joao (the grandson of the real-estate mogul) and Bia (an upper-middle class wife and mother with aspirations of greater wealth). Joao's decisions don't revolve around "safety" because he doesn't fear the poor and unity with them or value his own assets. The film even suggests that he assumes many of his assets come from underhanded dealings and that blood is on his head because of them. Bia has a bigger TV than her sister, a nice house, a good life -but not only is she unsatisfied with it all (to escape her life she secretly smokes weed with a vacuum in hand to suck up the fumes, and out of an apparent dissatisfaction with her husband, she pleasures herself with a laundry machine), but she feels that what she already has must be kept "safe" from danger. All of the other wealthy individuals in neighborhood do too. But they aren't all in it together to protect eachother. To each their own to protect themselves. Bia's neighbor's guard dog (presumably there for their "safety") barks constantly. So her neighbor's means of staying "safe" is her source of great annoyance and contributes to her undoing.

     A security team with questionable motives arrives to offer "safety" and peace of mind to the neighborhood. But as they stand watch at night discussing the deaths of other security guards, as they fix their eyes on videos played on a phone (blind to what might be coming at them), the film's ominous score swells and the audience knows that not even the security is secure. Scenes occurring near the film's start and finish bookend this undercurrent of a lack of security: After the film's opening shots, a car crash is seen and never explained. But later on in the movie, after the audience becomes used to the constant background noise that permeates the film's soundtrack, Bia's family gets into their car. All is silent. The noise can't get in. They are secure. But then that car crash comes to mind... reminding the audience that the noise will crash its way in. Toward the film's end, as the neighborhood gathers to celebrate a young girls birthday, they all join in a birthday song counting the many safeties and securities of home. The irony is apparent though, because by this point the audience already knows that the walls of exclusion provide no security. No one is safe.

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