‘Neighboring Sounds’ Shows Brazil Between The Extremes of Hedonist Heaven and Favela Hell

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Middle class Brazil takes center stage in film, ‘Neighboring Sounds’

Between mass tourism and the Internet, it’s never been easier to learn about other cultures. Yet we often stay on the surface. Watching the Olympics opening ceremony a few weeks ago, I was struck by how much of what was presented as quintessential Britishness came from pop culture — James Bond and Mary Poppins and the chorus to “Hey Jude.” Although Britain had a global empire not that long ago, the show’s director, Danny Boyle, grasped that the world’s image of his green and pleasant land now largely derives from movies and songs.

No doubt this will prove even truer of the Olympics’ next host, Brazil. While it’s one of the world’s five largest nations in both population and geographical area, our idea of it is almost completely steeped in dualistic mythology. 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 Mendonca 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.

Neighboring Sounds takes place in Mendonca’s home city of Recife, more precisely on a middle-class street by the sea where the last remaining small houses are being replaced by modern concrete high-rises. They’re filled with plasma TVs, kids studying Mandarin and couples making love, sometimes illicitly.

Ruling the roost is Francisco, a white-bearded, seemingly affable patron who owns most of the neighborhood…

Read more: NPR

 

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