Neighbouring Sounds (O som ao redor) Review

Francisco Oliveira (W.J. Solha) is an elderly property owner who owns most of the buildings in a well-to-do estate in Recife, the fifth-largest city in Braxil. After a series of thefts, the residents hire a night-security firm to guard the estate, but all is not what it seems...

Though what exactly is going on is kept up writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho's sleeve for some time...all does not click into place until the penultimate scene. It's a bold move to keep such a key motivating factor buried for so long, in a film that runs just over two hours, so that it becomes a final twist, but one thing Mendonça Filho's debut fiction feature – he had previously made short films and a feature-length documentary, Critico (2008) – does not lack is confidence. There are clues: keep an eye on the black and white photographs with which the film begins.

Mendonça Filho's touchstones are Paul Thomas Anderson and through him Robert Altman, and you can see their influence from the outset. After those still photographs, he hits the ground running with a Steadicam shot following two young children, a boy on a bicycle and a girl on rollerskates. A series of short scenes establishing life in the estate – scored to an ominous-sounding polyrhythmic (7/8 against 4/4, I believe) percussion beat – leads us in to the main body of the film, which is divided into three named parts.

From that point, we have less of a plot than a series of intertwining threads involving a large cast. But in the ensemble, some characters stand out. One is Bia (Maeve Jinkings), a mother of two bothered by a noisy dog next door; she tries several methods, some of them illegal, to deal with it. Another is João (Gustavo Jahn), neplew of Francisco, who has just begun an affair with Sofia (Irma Brown). He suspects that his student cousin Dinho (Yuri Holanda) is behind the thefts. And finally there is Codoaldo (Irandhir Santos), who pitched the security firm. His motives are not revealed until the end of the film.

Up until that point, Neighbouring Sounds is kept afloat by directorial flair. That there's anything wrong with the actors' performances, but this is a director's film. Shot in Scope, Mendonça Filho makes good use of the format, often using walls and doors to create frames within the frame. It's some achievement that the film remains as engaging as it does when it seems that very little is actually happening. While I'm not entirely convinced that the film has very much to say – it's very much in the service of revealing the solution to a puzzle – but as an example of a new director showing us what he can do, it's certainly impressive.


Neighbouring Sounds is a DVD-only release from Artificial Eye, on a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2.

The film was shot in Techniscope – which the unusually technically-specific end credits tell us – a two-perf 35mm process, much used in the 1960s and 1970s. Given that the film goes through a digital intermediate nowadays rather than an optical-printing stage, the end result is much less grainy than 60s/70s Techniscope features were. There certainly is grain, but it's natural and filmlike, and the colours and blacks seem true to me. It's a good solid DVD transfer, with no issues that I can detect. The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced.

The soundtrack comes in two flavours, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround. Both are fine, for this film which does make quite a bit of use of directional and off-screen sound. The subwoofer is certainly more pronounced on the 5.1 track, notably in the scene where Bia makes unorthodox use of a washing machine. The dialogue is almost all in Brazilian Portuguese, and those fluent in that language will appreciate the fact that the English subtitles are optional. (There are a couple of lines in English and some in Mandarin, but these are in the context of short scenes involving language lessons for some of the children on the estate.)

The extras are basic: three deleted scenes totalling 1:41 and a trailer (2:07). The latter is scored to the polyrhythmic beat I describe above, making the film seem more like a thriller than it actually is. Both extras are presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic, though with burned-in subtitles this time.

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