‘Seashore (Beira-Mar)’: Berlin Review

Beira Mar
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
Plenty of atmosphere, too little ardor

A lonely beach on the southernmost coast of Brazil is the scene for two friends on the brink of adulthood to explore their understanding of themselves and one another.

The melancholy inertia of a provincial beach town in winter sets the tone in Seashore, and for much of this unhurried Brazilian mood piece that spell remains more pervasive than the muted sexual tension and unexpressed yearning that find eventual release between two late-adolescent males. Writer-director team Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon build some emotional potency toward the end, and the lead actors inhabit their roles with admirable sensitivity. But while it's clearly loaded with personal investment, this is a movie about youth and sexuality in which the restrained approach too often translates as lethargy.

The drama is an intimate chronicle of a weekend trip between longtime friends who have begun to grow apart. While the filmmakers have stripped their exposition down to the bone, they signal the nature of the journey a little too pointedly in the lyrics of the lo-fi Daniel Johnston song "My Life is Starting Over," heard on the car stereo at the outset.

Martin (Mateus Almada) has been sent by his father to retrieve what appears to be an inheritance-related document from the family of his recently deceased, estranged grandfather on the extreme southern coast. Tomaz (Mauricio Jose Barcellos) accompanies him, seemingly hoping to regain some of their former closeness. They stay in a large beach house belonging to Martin's father, who is depicted indirectly as a difficult and unyielding man. That would certainly explain the chilly welcome given to Martin when he attempts to carry out his assigned task.

The deserted beach under a cold gray sky, backed by the somber accompaniment of wind and waves, provides the backdrop against which Martin and Tomaz shuffle around their unresolved feelings toward one another. Joao Gabriel de Quieroz's handheld camera crowds in on the two characters with probing intensity, but for much of the running time they avoid emotional openness. The directors stir in teasing hints of an erotic undercurrent, such as having them sit side by side on a couch playing a videogame with what looks like masturbatory frenzy. But the conversation is mostly impersonal, even dull.

When Tomaz's old friend Natalia (Elisa Brites) attempts to nudge them together during a small gathering at the house, their mutual awkwardness becomes uncomfortable. They spring apart again, and Martin sleeps with one of the girls at the party while Tomaz gets drunk to escape the advances of another.

Only the next day, when Tomaz is hung over and Martin has made something of a breakthrough with his grandpa's family does the distance start to dissolve between them. It's more than an hour into the movie before it even becomes clear that Tomaz is openly gay and Martin is aware of this. So while the setup implies an inevitable revelation and potential conflict, the delicate drama is actually a far more minor-key exploration of personal growth, identity and transition through desire and discovery.

There are some beautiful moments, though for most audiences, it's likely that too little happens for too long to make it worth the wait for the tender sensuality of the concluding scenes. Throughout, Seashore remains both languorous and reticent. However, viewers with the patience for a contemplative approach may respond to the transparent performances of the unselfconscious actors and to the elegant ambiguity of their characters' relationship as the film ends.

Production companies: Avante Filmes, FiGa/Br Films

Cast: Mateus Almada, Mauricio Jose Barcellos, Elisa Brites, Francisco Gick, Fernando Hart, Maite Felistoffa, Danuta Zaghetto, Irene Brietzke

Director-screenwriters: Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon

Producer: Marcio Reolon

Director of photography: Joao Gabriel de Quieroz

Production designer: Manuela Falcao

Music: Felipe Puperi

Editors: Bruno Carboni, Germano De Oliveira

Sales: FiGa/Br Films

No rating, 83 minutes.