Saturday, November 15, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: "Winds of August (Ventos de Agosto)"

Director: Gabriel Mascaro
Runtime: 77 minutes

In the ever-expanding range of unofficial cinematic sub-genres (Oscar Bait, Misery Porn, Classroom Cinema) one that gets mentioned far too little is Shrug Cinema. These are the films that, even when they have good traits, amount to little more than furrowing of the brow and a mumbled, "...that's it?" Other labels carry more of a sting, since Shrug Cinema can be an entirely neutral experience, but it's just as prominent (if not moreso) than the above-mentioned categories. The latest film to earn this label, unfortunately, comes from Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro. August Winds, Mascaro's debut, has some intriguing ideas about how we hold on to memories, but its characters are so flat that those ideas never crystallize. It's Shrug Cinema 101, straddling that fine line between mere emptiness and active failure. 

Set in a rural, coastal Brazilian village, Winds begins its languid 77 minutes with the every day lives of Jeison (Geova Manoel Dos Santos) and Shirley (Dandara De Morais), young lovers who make their meager living by harvesting coconuts (and also making love on top of said coconuts, which seems really uncomfortable, but that's none of my business). When the young lovers find a skull in the nearby coral formations, they're forced to confront the unfortunate reality that death claims us all, sometimes violently. 

Mascaro's status as a Brazilian native is clear, and he shoots the film without condescending towards his impoverished characters or shying away from the rough realities of life in the town. His initial introduction of death, here represented by the waters slowly eroding the town's coastal setting, is a good starting point, but the film soon stalls. The death of a visitor, presumably an accident, hits Jeison especially hard, and Mascaro's screenplay has a smart way of tying the loss into Jeison's past.

So why does August Winds get blown out of one's memory so easily? The most likely answer is that Mascaro's directing is more informative of his setting than of his characters. The film is particularly unfair to Shirley, who is soon left behind as Jeison becomes increasingly obsessed with taking care of the washed up corpse of the visitor. Neither De Morais nor Dos Santos are terribly expressive, existing so simply in front of the camera that it's difficult to finding anything resembling character traits. 

And even though Mascaro portrays rural life well, his method of filmmaking makes August Winds feel much longer than its brief runtime. Though Mascaro's final shot is a great culimation of the film's loose ideas and themes, so much of what comes before is needlessly protracted. Long shots are not inherently good things, and August Winds is a textbook example of the technique being applied to material that doesn't warrant it. As fierce as some of the winds are in Mascaro's world, they're unable to give life or movement to this wafer thin, stagnant tale. 

Grade: C-

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