Neighbouring Sounds is wickedly clever and cleverly wicked. In an early spring usually bursting with Hollywood bounty – the post-Oscars season – you probably never expected me to lead with a Brazilian drama/satire/thriller about condominium life in Recife. (“Oh yes, we did,” retorts the reader who recently complained I went on about Italian goat movies and worse.) Forget Hollywood: it’s in a winter all its own right now, forging barren icicles of digimated whimsy (The Croods) and laughless comedy (Identity Thief).
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s first feature is an Altman-worthy Latin ensemble movie, a panorama of neighbourhood life teeming with sly observational wit. The seaside suburb depicted is upward-aspiring in all senses. The buildings get taller, rising on bulldozed villa-bungalows that were there yesterday, gone today. The residents get high when and how they can: joints, sex, partying. The price of liberty is partial, elective imprisonment. A private security force is on duty, night and day, with a tented HQ and video-snooping monitors. This ragged militia grins – contempt plus amusement – at the kiss-stealing young couple, the tree-climbing urchin, the old millionaire sneaking from his penthouse for a midnight sea bathe, the unstable housewife and her morning marijuana deliveries. (She lights up before masturbating with a little help from a washer-drier’s aphrodisiac judder.)
We don’t know where all these spinning story-cycles will end, until we realise late exactly where they will end. It’s a payoff we should have seen moving in on us, as implacable as the multiple home invaders fantasised in a young girl’s nightmare. That dream sequence is a corker and so is another: a country-visiting young couple and their grandfatherly host stripped bare to a visceral, atavistic nakedness of soul under what seems a Villa d’Este cataract of blood. This is the only time the film allows itself an outing, like a prisoner’s hour in the yard. But here and throughout, Neighbouring Sounds is scary, funny, mischievous, intelligent, magisterial: a picture of man and woman as social animal in which the animal never lurks far beneath the social.
Compliance is an almost-spellbinder about the gullibility of common folk. That’s you, me and anyone who might work, for a year, a day or a minute in a fast-food joint like ChickWich, where a “cop” one day telephones a detention order for a pretty waitress, whom a purse-burgled victim has just reported to the police.
Prefaced by a caption recalling the famous Milgram experiments in blind obedience to authority, the film edges forward diffidently, never quite matching strength of craft to strength of idea. It’s creepily beguiling even so, right down to the (apparently truth-based) moment when the phone-cop insists the luckless girl be body-searched, first by the woman manager, then her boyfriend. The topic is spooky enough to have merited a more powerful film. Why didn’t Kubrick – that prince of paranoia among picture-makers – ever move in on the movie possibilities of greater Milgramism?
Matteo Garrone’s Reality is a sweet nothing about a Naples fish-stall vendor (Aniello Arena) convinced he has been shortlisted for Italy’s Big Brother TV show. When Garrone’s film won the runner-up Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year everyone thought, “Madness in the jury room!” Either that or the guiding hand of jury president Nanni Moretti. The gentle shaggy-dog humour of Moretti’s films (Dear Diary, April) finds a cousin here. The story lollops along, as old-fashioned as Neo-realism, as “targeted” in its satire as a mutt questing for a lost bone.
Garrone’s first film Gomorrah was an ambitious, fresco-sized crime drama. Here the under-resourced plot yoyos in and out from the town square where the hero works, suspecting every passer-by-or-through of being – ho ho – a TV producer or talent scout. Friends and family cheer or scold him for his credulity. His dreams, we become sure, will go nowhere. Certainly the movie will – and does. It is like standing on a treadmill waiting for comic scenery to come by, or at least the odd signpost indicating a thought-direction on celebrity culture.
Post Tenebras Lux won the Best Director prize at the same Cannes festival. More incredulity. Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas is a different kettle of fish from Garrone – or kettler of audiences. He corrals them into an enigma-space at once claustrophobic and amorphous, the crypto-autobiographical tale of an artist fighting his demons and family (the children played by Reygadas’s own) as he audits life’s daily toll of spiritual sufferings and scavengings.
If the filmgoer tries to escape the kettle, he is coshed on the head by moments of runic fright or violence. Here is a digitised devil prowling the home like a Pink Panther gone satanic; here is a burglary; here is a deforestation sequence (violence to the planet!); here is cruelty to dogs. There is a baffling interlude in a sex club and a baffling if beautiful sunset scene in a meadow with dogs, horses and a wandering child. Baffling is the default setting for this movie. Reygadas once made Japón and Silent Light, small masterpieces of organic fable-making, made rich by their riddles. Here the riddling is all. Organic went thataway.
“Expense of Talent in a Chase of Fame”: thoughts on Reincarnated and the sycophantic celeb-umentary.
Woe to the rapper
And director Andy Capper.
Who said rap is dead?
It’s rap films that need cred.
Once Doggy Dogg, then Dogg, now today Lion
New tricks Snoop’s for tryin’
As he leaves USA
For a Jamaica sashay.
(He wants to learn reggae,
And not get his face too eggae.)
But this film is shapeless and brown-nosed and droopy
More lapdog than lion, more Shaggy than Snoopy.
There’s scenes with his fans and scenes with clan Marley,
And scenes with his yes-folk in aimless parley,
And “herb”-smoking scenes of stoned Bacchanale,
And scenes with no point like Aunt without Charley.
The reels go on and go on and go on,
Entwining their idol like Laocoon
I can’t give a star-numbered rated acclaim.
I write this on leaving after an hour and a minute
(Which is why I’m still sane
And my colleagues are still in it.)
Next time give us a rap doc to punch our tickets,
Not a gangsta schmooze-fest to give us rickets.