This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Brazil is a country of continental dimensions whose filmmaking reflects its sprawling size. In any given year, just look at five or six films produced in different regions of the country and you will find such thematic, aesthetic and linguistic diversity that you'd feel they could well have been made on different planets. There are dumb populist comedies, exercises in style, narrative experiments, dense dramas and historical recreations.
And then there's "Neighboring Sounds," the first narrative feature by film critic Kleber Mendonça Filho.
Written by Mendonça and divided into three parts, the film weaves between a dozen characters who live on the same street in Recife (the capital of Pernambuco, in the Northeast of Brazil). They get into petty conflicts with one another, venting grievances that an old communist would call "petit-bourgeois" (and that the Internet generation would label #MiddleClassProblems), while trying to extract as much happiness as they can from an environment that offers minimal inspiration. In this sense, "Neighboring Sounds" presents itself not only as a character study, but also as an authentic socio-economic class study.
Contained in their apartments by ubiquitous iron bars installed to provide security but evoking a prison-like atmosphere, the characters express their humanity and their desire for freedom as circumstances allow: a boy tries to play ball in the street but is continually frustrated, a pair of embracing teenagers kiss in a concrete corner, and anonymous individuals paint messages of love on the asphalt in futile defiance of the oppressive gray concrete. So when the fantastic editing abruptly cuts from a shot of the city's skyline to one that shows several empty bottles on a table (in a beautifully done graphic match cut), we notice the ironic point of the filmmaker without feeling he's trying to hammer his message on our heads.