NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (Kleber Mendonça Filho). 131 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 8) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Hard to believe that this gorgeous mood piece comes from a debut filmmaker. Focusing on one street in the Brazilian beach town of Recife, Kleber Mendonça Filho's Neighboring Sounds tackles its themes so subtly, you're mesmerized before you realize you're watching a commentary on race, class and capitalism.
In a wealthy complex controlled by sugar cane baron Francisco (W.J. Solha), a security company gets the job of making sure everyone's property is safe. But its presence on the street creates an eerie tension.
The camera wanders into the residents' homes, spying on pot-smoking Bia (Maeve Jinkings) relating to her children and the help; Francisco's son Claudio (Sebastião Formiga) falling in love with a woman whose former home his father is expropriating to build a condo; security guard Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos) stealing into people's homes to have sex.
All the relationships are fraught, their essence conveyed often in a gesture.
Not surprisingly, given the title, the sound, designed by Filho himself, is astounding. Leaves in trees don't flutter - they roar. Clanging construction equipment is aptly intrusive; even the noise of children playing seems ominous.
But the film is almost as visually arresting, each shot meticulously constructed, often using the grid-like patterns of gates or bars on the windows.
Don't be misled by the absence of plot. Neighboring Sounds is not a "meditation" - it's an always absorbing, never ideological commentary on what makes us fearful. Riveting.