From the opening archival photos in “Neighboring Sounds,” writer/directorKleber Mendonça Filho positions the story in a long history of extreme wealth inequality. We see the construction of palatial estates for the wealthy, which were of course built on the backs of workers who made practically nothing.
The fault lines of class in America are felt, but not always seen. Such is not the case in the Brazil of this film, where wealth inequality in a coastal city is starkly defined by staggering differences in property. The wealthy and the poor are not stratified in different spheres on influence; instead, they live in close proximity. Even quite literally bordering on each other.
This setting might seem the perfect one for a battle of the haves and the have nots. But in the hands of Mendonca, the story of “Neighboring Sounds” focuses less on clashes and more on coexistence. After all, it’s the default setting for their society. This approach leads to fascinating observations, enough to earn its status as my pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
From a rich realtor contending with CD player thievery that weirds out his latest fling to a strung-out homemaker who just wants the dog on the other side of the fence to shut up, everybody in Recife really wants the same things. Safety and privacy are the two concerns at the top of mind, yet both are indicative of a larger issue. Everyone wants some elbow room, the hottest commodity in town. And, perhaps not by accident, virtually all of it remains in the control of a wealthy, landed aristocrat festering away on a platation outside the city.
Little happens in “Neighboring Sounds,” save the introduction of a new private security firm into the neighborhood. Created to fill a perceived need for existential protection, they uncover many of the sleeping giants lurking inside the community that awaken to cause friction. All the while, Mendonca remains remarkably attuned to the minutiae that define modern urban life. His film has the same intersecting lives feel as Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 2000 Mexico-set film “Amores Perros,” but without that director’s suffocating and forced projection of cosmic fate onto the proceedings. It’s natural how these tales intertwine and overlap, forming a discordant but honest city symphony.