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.
As the film progresses, we watch a series of people in their daily lives. Bia (Maeve Jinkings) is a mother of two who hardly sleeps and maliciously plots to quiet the constant barking of her neighbor’s dog. During the day, her life at home is secret as she medicates her loneliness in various ways. João (Gustavo Jahn), a relative of the patriarch of the block, is part of a powerful farm family that comes to Recife and starts buying property and controlling the neighborhood. Though he hates his job working for his family, he loves the power and wealth associated with his position. He has a brief love affair with Sofia (Irma Brown), a relatively isolated and mysterious character.
After some one breaks into a car in the neighborhood, a private security firm conveniently arrives and offers total security patrolling twenty-four hours. The music that follows the firm makes their presence ominous, as though at any moment they are ready to assault anyone who steps out of line. At the end of the movie, however, we learn the true reason for their being on this block, though that revelation is slow, anticlimactic and seemingly unimportant as there is no real back-story development.
Overall, while O Som ao Redor is an acoustically powerful and innovative movie, the plot never develops. The logic of the characters’ actions is absent; there is no climax and the movie just plods along for a very slow two hours. While I understand what Mendoça Filho attempted to capture, a slice of everyday life in Recife, in O Som’s case, everyday life just does not make for a compelling movie. If only the plot development matched the intensity of the acoustics in O Som, then there would be a reason to endure this otherwise lackluster and slow movie.
All too often in contemporary cinema theatrical soundscapes play second fiddle, carrying us along while the sweeping cinematography is the key element that connects the viewer to the film and its characters. But in O Som, the sound takes precedence. Its the focal point that drives your emotions. The acoustic effects can leave the viewer happy, sad, uncomfortable and filled with voyeuristic sensations. Approaching the movie with limited expectations, viewers can still enjoy a snapshot of everyday life that is elevated and made more interesting by Filho’s brilliant use of sound.