Quiet! Can you hear that? The debut feature from critic-turned-filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho opens with a striking montage of a neighborhood in the Brazilian city of Recife. The images are ominous, alternating between slinky Steadicam tracks and eerily unwavering long shots. But it’s the sounds that predominate: The cacophonous squeals of children on a playground, the nails-on-a-chalkboard grind of an electric sander, the metal-bending crunch of two cars crashing together—like a paranoiac’s version of the noises-of-the-city prelude to Rouben Mamoulian’s musical comedy Love Me Tonight (1932).
Filho’s anxiety-inducing formal control is in full force throughout this multicharacter narrative, which interweaves nearly a dozen principals. Stories alternate from deadpan comic (the bored middle-class housewife who uses her washing machine as a vibrator) to the intriguingly cryptic (the elderly rich man who seems to exert a Dr. Mabuse–like control on the community). And there are even a few horror-movie jump scares—watch out for that blood-red waterfall— that hint at the confrontationally sociopolitical turn the film takes in its impressively calibrated last half-hour. Yet Filho so completely calculates his causes and effects, even going so far as to have the villain of the piece literally swimming with sharks, that you never fully feel the senses-altering charge of a truly impassioned polemic.
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