“While it’s one of the world’s five largest nations in both population and geographical area, our idea of [Brazil] is almost completely steeped in dualistic mythology,” suggests John Powers at NPR. “One side is happy and rhythmic—samba clubs at Carnival, soccer gods like Pele, the Girl from Ipanema who still makes everyone she passes go ‘Ahh.’ The other side couldn’t be bleaker. Because of movies like Pixote and City of God, millions see Brazil as a land of orphans on trash heaps and drug dealers fighting for the slums known as favelas. Of course, what’s missing from both these visions of Brazil is, well, Brazil. Especially the country that, like China, has been enjoying an economic boom for almost two decades. This modernizing, increasingly prosperous Brazil finally comes to our screens in the sly, funny, unsettling new feature, Neighboring Sounds. Written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, this isn’t merely the best new movie I’ve seen this year; it may well be the best Brazilian movie since the 1970s.”
And New Yorkers have a few more days to see it; Neighboring Sounds is at the IFC Center through Tuesday and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center through Thursday. Update: Neighboring Sounds has been held over and runs through Tuesday, September 4 at the IFC Center and through Thursday, September 6 at the FSLC.
“Through the residents of a crumbling middle-class city block in Recife, a city on Brazil’s northeastern coast, Filho looks at the fault lines that open up between people of varying races, social classes, and generational identities,” writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. “Yet the beauty of the film is how organically its themes are presented—it’s a slice of life that comes about its sweeping ideas with surprising delicacy.”
Neighboring Sounds, winner of the FIPRESCI prize in Rotterdam earlier this year, is a “revelatory debut,” writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times. “The characters in this densely populated movie can be roughly divided into masters and servants, and you notice just how much labor—ironing clothes, refilling water coolers, delivering packages, opening doors, selling drugs—goes into maintaining the leisure class in its life of ease. But Mr. Mendonça, a former film critic whose command of the medium is both formidable and subtle, is up to something more than the usual upstairs-downstairs comedy of colliding destinies in a small place. The scope of his movie is narrow, but its ambitions are enormous, and it accomplishes nothing less than the illumination of the peculiar state of Brazilian (and not only Brazilian) society.”
“What gradually emerges,” writes Fernando F. Croce in MUBI’s Notebook, “is a snapshot of anonymous, polished architecture erected on top of social, racial, and historical abrasions, with Filho’s oblique, almost perversely graceful atmosphere of submerged violence proving to be much more effective than the blunt frontal attacks of José Padilha. At times, the underlying dread turns to full horror, as when a dreamy pastoral interlude literally turns blood-red. Indeed, there’s more than a whiff of David Cronenberg’s Shivers to Filho’s high-rises, the sense of a sleek shell covering a perturbed, ailing center. That the tensions simmer and perpetuate themselves instead of exploding into monstrous release makes the film no less unsettling.”
Update, 8/29: Ryan Sheldon has a good long talk with Filho for Bomb.