'August Winds' ('Ventos de agosto'): Locarno Review
Actress Dandara de Morais and non-professional Geova Manoel dos Santos star in this arty fiction feature debut from Brazilian documentary director Gabriel Mascaro
Despite several scenes of lovemaking among the coconuts, August Winds (Ventos de agosto) could hardly be described as a Brazilian take on The Blue Lagoon. Instead, this fiction feature debut from visual artist and documentary filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro (Housemaids, Defiant Brasilia) plays like a languid and decidedly arty contemplation of life and death on the northern Brazilian coast, which is battered in August by the severe gales of the title. A gorgeously shot item very much deserving of big-screen projection, this Locarno Film Festival title should pick up steam on the festival circuit, though more traditional theatrical exposure will be limited.
The vivacious Shirley (Dandara de Morais) has been sent from the big city to the countryside by her mother to look after her aging grandmother (Maria Salvino dos Santos). The young woman’s also found a job at a coconut plantation as a tractor driver and is in a very physical relationship with her hunky colleague, Jeison (Geova Manoel dos Santos), who dives for seafood in his spare time. Jeison still lives with his stern father (Antonio Jose dos Santos), who keeps his son on a short leash, forcing the lovers to photogenically make love on top of Shirley’s trailer filled to the brim with coconuts.
The early going is dominated by the couple’s youthful exuberance and bouts of lovemaking, which could potentially lead to new life and which stand in stark contrast to the decay caused to the coastline by the increasingly intense tropical storms and to several incarnations of death that turn up in the film’s second half. They include a skull that Jeison finds on the ocean floor and, later, a corpse that has washed ashore and that the young diver decides to take home, much to the annoyance of his old man.
An amusingly absurd bit ensues as Jeison asks the police to come collect the body of the dead man but they refuse to do so, as his father’s hut "around the fourth river bend" doesn’t have an exact address. The resolution to this problem is both logical and comical, and the few instances of humor offer a welcome reprieve as the film's mood shifts from summery and sultry to increasingly dark and moody.
The director himself plays a meteorologist particularly interested in the titular winds, and his character turns up in Jeison’s village about 30 minutes into the proceedings for a series of measurements and recordings. In an interesting paradox, Mascaro’s onscreen presence, with his character’s emphasis on empiricism, adds something of a nonfiction edge to the material while also recalling the filmmaker’s earlier documentary work.
Indeed, much of the film, shot by Mascaro himself in a stunningly crisp if occasionally smoky color palette, is photographed in a leisurely observant style that allows the underlying themes of life and death, in a place that seems eternal but in reality is constantly being attacked and reshaped by the elements, to surface organically. That said, the director is not immune to beauty and some shots, such as a medium close-up of Shirley’s legs across a chromed piece of the tractor that reflects the sunlight, are held much too long in the context of the overall flow of the material.
Only de Morais is a professional actress but she blends in beautifully with the locals, including Salvino dos Santos, who plays her wise grandmother, and Manoel dos Santos, who plays Jeison with a touching combination of youth, desire and inexperience.
Production companies: Desvia Producoes, Lucinda Filmes, Cinecolor Digital
Cast: Dandara de Morais, Geova Manoel dos Santos, Maria Salvino dos Santos, Antonio Jose dos Santos, Gabriel Mascaro
Director: Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriters: Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Ellis
Producer: Rachel Ellis
Executive producer: Stefania Regis
Director of photography: Gabriel Mascaro
Production designer: Stefania Regis
Costume designer: Gabriel Mascaro
Editors: Ricardo Pretti, Eduardo Serrano
No rating, 75 minutes