O Som ao Redor (Neighboring Sounds) (2012) is Kleber Mendoça Filho’s debut film. Set in the northeastern coastal city of Recife, Brazil, O Som hints at the violence, lack of privacy and shameless behavior of a neighborhood of affluent residents. The film’s triumph comes from its astounding ability to amplify the sounds of everyday life: the sound of roller blades crossing over concrete and passing over the cracks; the sound of feet juggling a ball during a soccer match; the sloppy and wet sounds of kissing; the sound of being followed by security guards. I watched the film on my computer with noise cancelling headphones, and the aural ambience was not only stunning, but also pervasive and disconcerting. The background music and how Mendoça Filho allows sound to be a character of its own, is intimidating and at times uncomfortable.
Director Lucy Mulloy’s first feature film, Una Noche, is a dark, dramatic love letter from Cuba that explores the human side of the balsero phenomenon (Cubans fleeing to Florida via raft). Though Mulloy is not from Cuba herself, rather a native from Great Britain, currently residing in New York, Una Noche demonstrates her intimate knowledge of Cuba’s socioeconomic realities. Due to years spent researching and working closely with first time actors and a devoted international crew, she dialogues with Havana’s social ails without delving into murky political debates about the Revolution and U.S. Cuban relations. Through her characters she explores Cuba’s infamous black market, Cuban sexuality, and the lack of economic opportunity for Havana’s youth. Despite some failings in her first film, it’s not surprising that Mulloy’s storytelling and technical abilities have won her critical praise at prominent film festivals such as Berlin International and Tribeca.