Magazine article Variety

Brazil's Oscar Foreign Language Entry Whispers of Racism

Magazine article Variety

Brazil's Oscar Foreign Language Entry Whispers of Racism

Article excerpt

Kleber Mendonca Filho's 'Neighboring Sounds' considers nation's everyday class prejudices

Tucked among the 76 submissions competing for this year's Oscar foreign-language prize is a film quite unlike any that has previously represented Brazil, whose cinematic output has been more directly associated with flashy, slum-set pics like "City of God" and the high-energy "Elite Squad" series.

Kleber Mendonca Filho's "Neighboring Sounds," by contrast, unfolds almost entirely on a residential block in the city of Recife - the same street where the filmmaker lives. Taking place in a world that everyday Brazilians might recognize, "Sounds" reveals the unspoken fear wealthier locals feel toward their neighbors, which drives them into private apartments high above the streets, and the ambiguous threat posed by the lower classes.

According to Mendonca (in Portuguese, "filho" means "son," similar to "junior"), Brazilians live by a form of nonconfrontational racism - always present, but seldom acknowledged.

What makes "Sounds" so potent is the way it dares to examine these prejudices without identifying them outright, relying on audiences to recognize the phenomenon.

"I actually made it a point with the actors and my colleagues never to use the word 'racism' in the film, so we would be on the same realistic ground as Brazilian society, which doesn't see itself as racist but practices racism every day," explains Mendonca, who was heavily influenced by such American films as "Poltergeist," "E. …

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