Sunday, October 26, 2014

August Winds (Ventos de Agosto)

AUGUST WINDS  (Ventos de Agosto)           C+                              
Brazil  (77 mi)  2014  d:  Gabriel Mascaro 

This is a film that seems to exist in a void, in a world filled with unexplored possibilities, where it is nearly narrative free, instead offering brief vignettes that provide only the barest sketches of life in a small seaside village set in the northeastern Alagoas state of Brazil.  Never really finding its rhythm, the region retains a postcolonial vibe where remnants of slavery still thrive throughout the region, especially in the mythological views of the elders, which are only briefly explored, never really delving into the heart of the culture.  Instead this exists on the perimeter, where the modern world intrudes upon the past, seen through the eyes of Shirley, Dandara De Morais, the only professional actress in an otherwise nonprofessional cast having previously worked on a television series, a modern girl from the city who was sent by her family to look after her aging grandmother.  While she drives a tractor for the local coconut plantation, she retains an impassive demeanor, almost as if she is a visitor to the region, exhibiting an occasional rebellious streak, expressed by a scene where she’s alone on a boat pouring a can of Coca Cola on her body for sunscreen protection set to the music of Lewd’s “Kill Yourself” THE LEWD - kill yourself.wmv - YouTube (2:07).  This sets the tone for a culture clash that never really occurs, as instead she feels trapped, having a sexual affair with a local boy Jeison (Geová Manoel Dos Santos) among the coconut trees as much out of boredom as anything else, where the coconut trees are more rooted to the land than she is, where there’s a beautiful image of trees swaying in the breeze, as first one man on the right side climbs a tree with the ease of a fly crawling up a wall, then another on the left side as they whack the coconuts among the branches, seen dropping to the ground, Ventos de Agosto 2014 Brazilian Film Trailer YouTube (3:11).  While Jeison works at the plantation, seen as backbreaking work under the blazing hot sun, he also loves to dive in the ocean, often finding lobster or octopus hiding in the coral reefs below. 

When Jeison discovers a skull at the bottom of the sea, he and Shirley bring it to the village elders to see if they can identify who it was, but what they discover is a deep-seeded belief that death is associated not with God or religion, but with the sea, where for generations life has been associated with the divine providence of the natural world around them, where the sea continually creeps ever closer to the land, often swallowing up nearby houses, becoming a lethal force to contend with.  Tropical storms pound the coastline in August, bringing a meteorologist (played by the director) to record the sounds of the trade winds, another outsider whose peculiar habits the local villagers fail to comprehend, but his curiosity draws him closer and closer to the sea, failing to recognize the danger of the rapidly developing weather patterns, where it appears he gets swept out into the sea, his body later discovered by Jeison tangled in the rocks below the sea, where he brings his bloated corpse to the shore, causing a certain amount of uneasy commotion.  With no refrigeration, the partially decomposed body smells of death, yet is carried around by Jeison wherever he goes, becoming obsessed with its disposal, calling the police to come retrieve it, but they fail to respond when he can’t give them an exact address, as this shoreline village has no streets and no numbers on their homes.  This takes on a comedic aspect of the film, becoming an absurd development, like a looming shadow that follows him around wherever he goes that he just can’t shake, eventually taking matters into his own hands and dropping it off at the police station, which is oddly closed, where the only sound inside the locked building is a prisoner who is locked up inside.  Both Shirley and Jeison’s father recognize a change in Jeison’s behavior, losing that carefree childhood innocence, where all he can think about is this corpse. 

With a background in documentary filmmaking, much of what’s shown onscreen reflects the natural beauty of the region, but the filmmaker shows little interest in the people that inhabit the region, choosing young people for their sensual beauty and elderly people largely for their distinctive faces instead of exploring the nature of what lies within, becoming instead a study of surface realities.  With little or no coherent story, this becomes an impressionistic mosaic that is largely out of synch with its own banality, where the stretches of wordless montage show little connection to developing themes, where the true mysteries of life remain hidden and out of sight, where the people remain overly passive and disconnected from each other.  It may have been intended as an ethnological study, but is more an experimental landscape picture where the peaceful calm of the underwater sequences are a stark contrast with a postcolonial existence on land, where the lush physical sensuality on display hides the historic connection of the region to the harsh and brutal conditions of slavery.  In fact it’s this disconnect that may describe this picture, which feels a bit like a pictographic observational piece as seen by an outsider’s eyes infatuated by the unspoiled wilds of nature, attempting to preserve as much of that as possible while immersing the region in the artificiality of making a feature-length motion picture.  Ultimately the film flounders in its own vague ambiguity, as it’s an odd mix, doesn’t really work, though there are a few scenes of rapturous beauty, but overall it doesn’t really feel like a complete work, where it may actually exploit the authenticity it seeks.  While it may attempt to be a contemplative work, it remains all too vacant and meandering, lacking the poetic intricacy of Lisandro Alonso’s work in LIVERPOOL (2008) and LOS MUERTOS (2004), who remains one of the most uncompromising South American artists who is able to wordlessly capture the immediacy and vibrancy of lost souls adrift in the wilderness.    

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