Posts Tagged ‘Kleber Mendonça Filho’

My report on the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) for Offscreen. Thanks once again to the editor, Donato Totaro, for agreeing to run it.


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It’s not unusual for the last line of dialogue in a movie to serve as a kind of summation statement, making explicit what’s already been implied. The line, “There’s no place like home,” in The Wizard of Oz (1939) is a clear example; less obviously significant is the final line of Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux (2012), which for some reason ends with a group of English schoolboys playing rugby. To encourage his teammates, one of the players says, “They’ve got individuals, we’ve got a team. So come on, let’s go.” A straightforward remark made by a minor character, the line is almost thrown away, but it’s nonetheless a fitting conclusion for a movie that at first glance appears to be a collection of scenes rather than a unified story. The narrative consists of a series of loosely related vignettes, and by presenting them non-sequentially, the film makes it impossible for the viewer to construct a linear chronology of events. Accordingly, it only gradually becomes apparent how the different episodes are related to one another, and even after watching the whole movie, there are still a number of things that I find mysterious about it.

The film’s early scenes are fairly linear, revealing the characters through their daily routines. As the movie opens, Juan (Aldolfo Jiménez Castro) — a wealthy landowner of European descent — is living in the Mexican countryside with his wife, Nathalia (Nathalia Avecedo), and their two children who are still in diapers. Notwithstanding the film’s second sequence, in which a radiant, toolbox carrying devil quietly enters the couple’s home while they sleep, things only get weird following an episode wherein Juan goes to an AA meeting with his indigenous doppelgänger, Seven (Willebaldo Torres), when the movie cuts to the rugby players in a locker room getting ready for a match, even though no connection has been established between them and Juan. In the next sequence, Juan and his family attend a wedding reception, but now the kids are about ten years older and Juan is going grey. Therefore, when he’s shot by a burglar late in the film, there’s no suspense about whether or not he’ll live as his hair is still black, though it’s only here that something like a linear narrative begins to emerge. A scene in which two old men play chess together initially seems totally extraneous, its purpose only becoming apparent when the conversation belatedly turns to the subject of Juan’s recovery. I was intrigued by the movie not so much because I was curious to see what would happen next, but because I wanted to know how each scene fit in with everything that came before it.

Similarly disjointed, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds (also 2012) is a network narrative in which the connections between the characters are unusually tenuous. In contrast with a movie like Babel (2006), in which several apparently unrelated stories set in different countries all turn out to be connected, here the separate narrative threads don’t depend on one another, even though the characters all live on the same street in a middle-class neighborhood in Recife. One subplot centers on a bored housewife, Bia (Maeve Jinkings), who doesn’t have any interaction with the other major characters beyond offering some coffee to the private security guards who patrol the street by night. Furthermore, the individual stories are all fairly loose, revealing the characters through their daily routines, and while the film touches on a number of big issues — inner-city crime, rapid urbanization, the legacy of Portuguese colonialism — it’s not obvious (at least to me) how these topics are related. Even at 130 minutes, the movie is never less than compelling as storytelling, but its meanings are somewhat obscure.

One important character is a real estate agent, João (Gustavo Jahn), whose new girlfriend, Sofia (Irma Brown), grew up on the same street where he now lives. Early on, after sleeping over at João’s, Sofia discovers that her car stereo was stolen during the night, and João suspects that his cousin, Dinho (Yuri Holanda), is the one who did it, though it’s not clear that he is. (When João confronts him, Dinho gives him someone else’s stereo.) It’s implied that crime is pervasive in the area, but the movie doesn’t offer any explanation for this. Likewise, it’s not clear why Bia needs to smoke weed to get through the day, or why she deliberately provokes her sister, Betañia (Mariaangela Valéa), by buying a new flat-screen TV that’s slightly larger than hers. Later, when João tells Dinho that he broke up with Sofia, it comes as a surprise as their relationship seemed to be going well. The last time we see them together, João takes Sofia to see her childhood home, which is about to be torn down to make room for a new high-rise condominium, implying a connection between the demolition of Sofia’s old house and the termination of her relationship with João, though I for one can’t figure out what it is. To paraphrase Manny Farber, no film in recent memory has so thoroughly made me feel like a stupid ass.

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