Swirl (Girimunho): Venice Film Review

Atmospheric, semi-documentary character-study of a sprightly grandmother provides a richly rewarding peek into Brazilian village life.

Brazilian directors Clarissa Campolina and Helvécio Marins Jr. cast non-pros in a semi-doc about rural life in a small village

The rhythm of life is indeed a powerful beat, as the octogenarian heroine of Brazilian slow-burner Swirl so irresistibly proves. A fine example of ethnographic art-cinema anchored by the special charisma of fascinating real-life individuals, this arresting first feature from directors Clarissa Campolina and Helvécio Marins Jr.deserves extensive festival bookings after emerging from the pack at Venice’s edgy Orizzonti sidebar.

It should also be checked out by documentary showcases, as there’s clearly a significant non-fictional element in the way the directors work with their non-professional actors, each of whom play approximations of themselves. Of course, the key event which kicks off the narrative, the death of sedentary senior-citizen Feliciano after an evening of TV viewing, is derived from Felipe Bragança’s script, but overall the screenplay is just a framework for improvised scenes revolving around Feliciano’s widow, eightysomething Maria Sebastiana Martins Álvaro, her friends and extended family-members.

PHOTOS: The Scene at the Venice Film Festival 2011

This being Brazil, Mrs. Martins Álvaro has a semi-official nickname – Bastu – but she seems to be known simply as ‘Granny’ by everyone including her actual grandchildren Branca and Preta. A strikingly active and energetic lady, Bastu freely and unpretentiously dispenses the wisdom she’s accumulated over the decades: “I’ve been all over the place,” she reflects, “and now I’m not afraid of anything.” The specter of death doesn’t loom large in her existence, and when Feliciano starts “haunting” her – she hears the sounds of hammering from his empty workshop – her response is typically forthright and practical: “You’re dead already,” she grumbles. “What more do you want?”

Campolina, Marins and Bragança correctly intuit that, given Bastu’s irrepressible charm, they have no need to graft on any traumatic or melodramatic plot developments. And while the resulting lack of significant incident may tax those with particularly limited patience, it’s really not at all hard to be swept along by Swirl’s manifold visual and aural pleasures. “For me anywhere is good. Wherever I live, is fine,” says Bastu, though her bond with this particular corner of Brazil’s dusty sertãois palpably evident.

Ivo Lopes Araujo’s cinematography and the poundingly percussive, regional-flavored score by ‘O Grivo’ combine to intoxicatingly atmospheric effect, including during some quietly impressionistic sequences that are judiciously scattered through the picture’s suitably brisk running time. The final sequence, featuring Bastu in ruminative mood as she stands in the shallow waters of a shoreline, provides a truly lovely, resonant finale for a picture that wears its poetical and philosophical aspects with a highly appealing lightness.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Orizzonti)
Production companies: Teia, Dezenove, Eddie Saeta, Autentika Films
Cast: Maria Sebastiana Martins Álvaro, Maria da Conceição Gomes de Moura, Luciene Soares da Silva, Wanderson Soares da Silva
Directors: Clarissa Campolina, Helvécio Marins Jr.
Screenwriter: Felipe Bragança
Producers: Sara Silveira, Luana Melgaço, Luis Miñarro, Paulo de Carvalho, Gudula Meinzolt
Executive producers: Luana Melgaço, Maria Ionescu
Director of photography: Ivo Lopes Araujo
Production designer: Felipe Duarte
Music: O Grivo
Editor: Marina Meliande
Sales: Urban Distribution International, Paris
No rating, 87 minutes