Following the phenomenal success of City of God in 2002, Brazilian cinema pretty much went back into isolation. Like most national film industries, it just didn’t have the resources, the money or the exposure to follow up on that momentum. The Stephen Daldry-directed Trash came on to the screens this year, sending us back to the streets of Rio, but that was very much an international film (Richard Curtis helped write the bloody thing!).
Enter August Winds.
Okay, so it actually released last year; but here we have a movie that’s not only a product of the Brazilian film industry, but it’s also not another movie about the slums of Rio. August Wind’s biggest success is matching City of God’s portrayal of Brazilian youth, but comes at it from a completely different perspective. The story here follows Shirley (Dandara de Morais), a city girl now living in a tiny village to look after her grandmother. The only thing saving her from complete isolation is her lover Jeison (Geova Manoel Dos Santos); but a surprise discovery in the sea threatens to change everything.
August Winds is a film soaked in philosophical discussions, and at the centre of them all is the question of our mortality, and what it means to be alive (or dead). The characters who occupy this world are all stuck in some way, all looking to escape their monotony. But see, here’s the problem – while making a valiant effort, the filmmakers made the monotony…well, monotonous! Moving along at a snail’s pace, it tries to let the shots linger (and I’ll get on to that later); in theory that could have been fantastic, but the filmmakers don’t get it quite right.
Much of that is down to the supporting cast, who I think let the film down. The two leads are great, no complaints here. In a film devoid of much dialogue, Morais and Dos Santos get by with beautiful silences and a nicely understated chemistry. It’s a relationship I fully believed in. The supporting cast, though, really lack that same charisma. It really feels like some of the actors are not professionals (which wouldn’t be uncommon), and their sub-standard performances hurt the film. That, coupled with the slow pace, makes it a tough watch. I found myself zoning out at times, which isn’t great.
Visually, though, August Winds is a gorgeous film. Admittedly, I have no idea where in Brazil we are, but it looks stunning. I really like the episodic nature of the film, and the sharp, abrupt editing helps enhance that. Gabriel Mascaro, the film’s director, is fantastic at bringing beauty out of some plain imagery – one that really stands out is a birds-eye shot of the two leads lying naked on a bed of coconuts. It may as well be a painting.
Had Mascaro spent as much time focusing on the narrative as he did on the aesthetics, this would have been a brilliant film. But in the end, we’re left with a movie that is full of style but lacking substance. It’s certainly a film that’ll make you think, but it might also be a film that makes you yawn. I yawned. On the bright side, it’s wonderful to see a Brazilian film that doesn’t strike the same Rio slum beats. It’s far from perfect, sure, but its novel.