Monday, 1 April 2013

Neighbouring Sounds: excellent insight into Brazilian middle class

Have you seen Neighbouring Sounds, a new film by Kleber Mendonça Filho? You should. Firstly, it’s beautiful, a slide-show of captivating images of a neighbourhood in Recife, in the north east of Brazil. Secondly, if you’ve never been to Brazil but would like an insight into the country, particularly into the dynamics of its growing middle class, then you could do worse than watch this film.

I was surprised by how much Recife reminded me of Santos, the city where I grew up and lived some 20 years ago in the state of São Paulo, given that the two cities are about 1,500 miles apart. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the north/south divide in Brazil; the south and south east generate around 70% of Brazil’s GDP while the north east only about 13%. So, maybe Recife now resembles Santos back then, as the overall economy grows and Brazil welcomes more of its population into the middle class.
Watching the film, I was reminded of how claustrophobic the living arrangements often felt in Santos. The inside of our house was spacious enough, but there was a feeling of living on top of each other, as apartments looked down and into the lower-level houses, while several gardens would border each other, so you knew exactly what your neighbours were up to. Believe me, it’s a different feeling to the rows of Victorian terrace conversions I now live in; the layout in Santos felt much more cosy.
There were smaller details, too, that struck a chord. Brazilians have a terribly sweet tooth, so when Beatrice’s family stuff their fruit juices with spoonfuls of sugar, I found myself grimacing. I was guilty of it back then, but my taste buds must have changed. When I was last in Brazil, I couldn’t understand why my friends were adding sugar to their drinks; the juices were deliciously sweet already. I don’t even drink Guaraná anymore, my favourite soft drink when I was growing up.
The last point I wanted to make about the film was the underlying feeling of suspense, of something nasty about to happen…that never materialised. I saw the film with two friends, who said exactly the same thing. I don’t know what the director’s intentions were here, but I wonder if Kleber Mendonça Filho was trying to make a point about violence. Internationally, Brazil is still known for it, although its reputation is improving. And the country still has a lot of work to do to address the levels of violence, but sometimes I wonder if the external view is exaggerated; I’ve never felt unsafe in Brazil, when I was living there nor when I’ve since been to visit. It seemed that there was also a feeling of unease between the new middle class (those who have recently entered the "Class C" bracket) and the lower classes.
But these are just my musings. If you want a proper film review, read Philip French’s in the Observer. The reader comments below the review aren’t particularly positive but it sounds like they were expecting Die Hard. Don’t.

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