The visible and invisible layers of “Neighboring Sounds”

Greimasian semiotics shows how the characters are structured in Kleber Mendonça Filho's scripts and how his cinema gains importance from the sensitive strength of his characters

By Hermes Leal

I want to take advantage of the release of the book “Three Scripts: Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius, Bacurau” (Companhia das Letras), with the scripts of Kleber Mendonça Filho's films, to explain why Kleber's cinema is so important internationally, the that makes him be applauded in the great festivals of the world. And what is the aesthetics of “cinema” in his films, an aesthetic that the filmmaker himself recognizes to exist.

This cinematographic aesthetic, which makes cinema an art, “the cinema”, is found in the film's aesthetic in an “invisible” way. It is part between the visible and the invisible of a narrative, in which the aesthetic is deeper than the discourse, on a level of characters governing the action.

This invisible aesthetic, present in every good film, is in the sensitive layer of the narrative, generated in a generative path of meaning, in which the "feeling" of the characters, where emotions and passions are, is hidden under the layer of "acting ”. Now, we can show how this acting is generated, which hides a character's actions. This universe is called the “sensitive world” in contrast to the “intelligible world”, in which there is, in these films, a predominance of the sensitive (feeling) over the intelligible (acting). A predominance of the “state of soul” over the “state of affairs”.

The invisible layer of Kleber Mendonça's three films is structured in the feel of his characters, in which the narrative is built from this “aesthetics of the character” that is organized in the script. The script is a domain of the character. And characters are affected by passions such as anger, envy, hatred, rancor, resentment, melancholy, boredom and revenge. All these passions move the characters and shape the narrative and meaning of the film, based on what determines the character in the script.

Kleber's cinema has more emphasis on the suffering of his characters, due to his passions, placing his cinematography among the best in the world, precisely due to the strength of his characters rather than the shock of value that emanates from his themes.

In the fiction script, the domain belongs to the character, just as editing and photography predominate in documentary. The structure of a script is organized around the characters, not the contract. A character has his own structure of action governed by his passions.

Kleber's films fit into this sensitive cinema, where the state of mind trumps the state of affairs. It is the character, with his “presence”, that sensitizes the narrative. So, as the script is the domain of the character, let's talk about this world that no one sees, that we just imagine exists. Our focus is the character, and what he feels, and how he acts because of what he feels.

So, let's analyze the script not by its speech, by what the film says, but by what is hidden in this speech; how it hides a sensitive aesthetic, which is found in the character, in its internal structure, even in the script. First, I will analyze “Neighboring Sounds” and, later, I will do the same with the other two films, “Aquarius” and “Bacurau”.

The script for “Neighboring Sounds” is structured in the narrative program of “three” characters; Bia, who has mortal hatred for her sister, and this strains her performance in the narrative; João, a melancholy and tedious character, who lives in a bubble of inertia, sucked by the forces of these passions. Melancholy is an apparently weak passion, but it remains in the subject for a lifetime, canceling him out to act. And the third character, Clodoaldo, the avenger, is the one who has a complete narrative program, in a revenge project, in which Bia's tense journey and João's lukewarm journey cover her up. The hidden truth, hidden throughout the film, is Clodoaldo's journey of revenge, street safety, against the man who killed his father and uncle, which is only revealed in the last scene.

“Neighboring Sounds” ranks among the best films in the world due to its narrative play, between the acting and the feelings of the characters, how the filmmaker hides in his script a story that tells of an ongoing revenge, by the character Clodoaldo , with another parallel action, by Bia, with her hatred for her sister, which also has characteristics of an avenger's journey, due to the degree of tension in this hatred she feels for her sister.

Two complementary narratives in the sense that Bia shows scenes of her hatred for her sister, but Clodoaldo does not show the hatred for Mr. Francisco, the character who is the target of her revenge, who will be executed by the avenger at the end of the film, when the truth appears. Bia's tense path overlaps with Clodoaldo's ongoing, invisible revenge scheme, which will be revealed in the last scene, in the form of a “surprise”. One action hides another action.

But Kleber's greatest mastery is the introduction of a third character, in the same story, without relating to the others in terms of acting, but in the sensitive part of the narrative, which is João, a character who takes almost the entire film as a slug in action, strongly affected by the passions of “melancholy” and “boredom”. There is a game of meaning between Bia being so tense and João being very slow, weak, tedious, due to the tensive strength of these passions.

The character João has the passion of “melancholy”, which is stronger than the narrative of the other two characters, that is, Kleber also hid the characters' feeling, with another feeling, in addition to hiding an action with another action. He hid Clodoaldo and Bia's fear, hatred and rancor through the troubled passion that bore João. The weight of melancholy is so strong and intense that it overwhelms the ongoing feeling of hatred and revenge. He nullifies these tense narratives with infinite suffering, permanent annoyance.

Boredom and melancholy are enduring passions, sometimes hereditary, and which remain for a very long period in the character, dominate them completely. Characters like that we see in films such as “The Swamp”, by Lucrécia Marthel, and “Melancholia”, by Lars von Trier. Melancholy affects the characters in a profound way in these films, as in “Neighboring Sounds”.

In other words, in addition to Kleber hiding a path of revenge at the level of action, he also hides the hatred and rancor, which characterize these passions, with another passion, which is “melancholy”. There is a narrative game from the point of view of acting and feeling of the characters, in which the invisible layer of feeling is hidden in the actions of the characters. It is the same invisible aesthetic as in “Roma” by Alfonso Cuarón, in which the character Cleo, an Indian baba, hides a great feeling of guilt and remorse without being noticed.

The visible and invisible paths of Bia, João and Clodoaldo

The narrative and sensitive path of Bia, married, mother of a couple of children around 10 years old, is marked by her expression of anger, hatred, boredom, due to a disaffection with her “sister” and neighbor, who it disturbs her life, her sleep, her relationship with her children and husband, and with herself.

João's path has no progression, does not ask for a sale, he is a character dominated by the nullifying force of melancholy and boredom, which throws him into a “bubble” because of these passions. João doesn't look like he lived eight years in Germany, he doesn't bring anything from his past in Europe, as if he had also lived there in a bubble.

His relationship with a girlfriend is one of immense emptiness, like his footsteps; its existential simulacrum that never actually projects itself into an anticipated desire for something projected ahead. Her inertia allows her maid to live in her apartment with her children, as if that place had no owner, a presence.

Clodoaldo's path is classic, it involves a contract of trust and a disguise. And, in the end, a surprise. In the first act, Clodoaldo makes a contract of trust with the residents to guarantee security, as a street guard, manipulates the residents, and has an affair with the owner's maid whom he plans to kill. And, in the sanction, the arc of truth is revealed, which goes from “an illusion to a truth”, at the end of the character's journey.

In Bia's path, the sister is depicted in a dog, and her fury is generated, in large part, by the dog's barking. Every dog's bark is a bomb on his nerves, active because of the passion of hate that affects him. His existential simulacrum is running away from the noise by listening to loud music or smoking a joint, but the annoyance remains even after the dog is silent. Her passions are exposed, as are the “imperfect” characters. These imperfect characters, like Bia, are the ones that most captivate the public, because to show imperfection is to show a “truth”.

The feud that makes Bia tense is shown in the purchase of a TV, in which she buys a bigger one than her sister, and the two go out in slaps, and in Chinese lessons for the children so that they know something more than their children of the sister. Bia lives this tension. When she buys bombs, something more tense than anger, anger, revenge against her sister is expected. But the sounds of the bombs cover another revenge, that of Clodoaldo settling accounts with Francisco, where true revenge appears.

The closing of the narrative program gains added value to the settlement of accounts, the settlement of damage caused by Francisco in the past, in which the death of the father and uncle of the two avenging brothers was also linked to an insignificant dispute over a fence that divided their lands.

Aesthetics by surprise

The closing of the meaning of “Neighboring Sounds”, in the scene in which Clodoaldo confronts Francisco, in which the truth that he was there to get revenge is revealed, happens in a form of surprise. Until then, we didn't know why Clodoaldo went to be the security guard on that street. His narrative program was hidden until this moment. This is the most tense scene in the film and script due to the breaking of an implication, and the entry of the narrative of the concession, of the unexpected rather than the expected.

The emphasis in this scene, at the end of this arc of truth, Clodoaldo's arc, is always caused by the feeling of the character. The surprise occurs due to the liquidation of an ongoing hatred and revenge, which are two passions that pervade the character, and force him to go on a journey to be able to take this weight of passion from his soul, as Clodoaldo and the brother.

This tense scene is always a surprise. It's tense because it's unexpected. It works in the film's aesthetic in an invisible way, as in “Rome”, when, in the final scene, identical to the one in which Clodoaldo kills Francisco, Baba Cleo generates a surprise like the one in “Neighboring Sounds”. In the scene where Cleo saves her mistress Sofia's children from drowning, in which everyone is overwhelmed with emotion, she bursts out crying for another reason, not because of what everyone is feeling, but about a “guilt” she has in your soul. She says she regrets having wished her daughter to die. This scene is the most tense in the film, and reveals a truth of the character that until then was hidden, due to his passions and emotions.

This same aesthetic is present in the script for “Parasite”, in which the final scene, the most tense, also occurs as a surprise, unexpected, impacting the spectator, as in “Neighboring Sounds”, when Mr. Kim kills his boss and not the man who had just killed his daughter. He surprised everyone and the spectator, because he was taken by a passion of “fury”, due to the accumulation of various feelings, ranging from anger to resentment and hatred to anger. Kim kills the boss when he is affected by a passion, because the boss smells him, which stinks of sewage, the cockroach.

Even a pop movie, which turned into a cult, “The Joker”, also has this aesthetic formed by the tensile strength of the characters' passions, in the final scene, in which Arthur Flerk, the character who predicted that when he went onstage, he would kill himself, but the moment he arrives on stage he doesn't kill himself, and kills the other, the TV presenter. It was a surprise, because it implied that Arthur, who had been rehearsing his suicide with a revolver, should kill himself, but he didn't fulfill the implication when he was filled with anger, hatred and anger by the TV presenter he previously idolized.

What's in common about the final scene in all of these movies is that it was driven by the character's emotion. It was an emotion that caused the surprise, the strongest stop in the continuity of the characters, the change from implication to concession, in Clodoaldo, Kim, Cleo and Arthur. This surprise is part of a universal scheme of cinematographic aesthetics, it is a sensitive and invisible structure, applied intuitively by its authors and writers, when they are following the Aristotelian rules of dramaturgy, even if only in their intuition.

And, as we are talking here about a book with the three scripts, I will still publish the analysis of the scripts of “Aquarius”, about Clara's path of anger and rage, and “Bacurau”, in which anger, fear, the The characters' anger and desire for revenge tension a clever fable about a people who knew how to hide. And hiding secrets that reveal themselves in the form of surprises.

Reading a script, quite different from watching a movie, is where we can better perceive these imagined characters. There are millions of different Clodoaldo. Kleber's scripts explain the characters so well that their tense clash, just in the text, without the presence of an actor, is pure literature. Literature built only on the character, on his daily actions, where the turning points, the evident arcs, are hidden within their feeling, hidden in this daily routine, and not in the tense points.

This works, for example, in “Neighboring Sounds”, which, both in the script and in the film (which follows the script very faithfully), does not show the end of João's relationship with his girlfriend, which could be a tense scene. . What is shown are these intervals, these passages, the present, and not an effect of transforming the narrative and the characters who find themselves at this point of tension between them, as should happen in scenes where there is a break, a breach of contract that exists at the end of a love relationship.

Clara's narrative of suffering, with an imperfect past that does not close, is a profound novel, detailed in the text with precision of these imperfections, which the film, with its movement and light, hides in its aesthetics. Clara is impregnated with the past in three ways: by music, by cancer and by the old building where she lives.

To read a script is to see an entire scene, the before and after on a page, very different from the film, where we always see the present, the “event”, as Gilles Deleuze would say, in “The Logic of Sense”. Kleber's scripts allow for another experience that can be experienced before the film.

Take a risk and you will have a surprise. Read the scripts, feel your characters and imagine your movies.