An engaging if uneven tale that outstays its welcome, "Sonhos de peixe" describes the life and loves of a teenage lobster diver from a poor Brazilian fishing village. Attractive characters and locations could swing some limited release among exotica fans.

An engaging if uneven tale that outstays its welcome, “Sonhos de peixe” describes the life and loves of a teenage lobster diver from a poor Brazilian fishing village. Russian-born, U.S. raised helmer Kirill Mikhanovsky, who made the prize-winning short doc “Inhale, Exhale,” throws his camera into village life with a documentarist’s conviction. But when a whimsical script ploy takes over the film’s last half hour, credibility wanes. Attractive characters and locations could swing some limited release among exotica fans.

Appropriately enough, a pale-skinned, sea sick German character in the film is affectionately joshed as the Gringo (Yves Hofer) — he is as out-of-water as Mikhanovsky must have felt in this remote Brazilian paradise where the locals make their living fishing sting ray and illegally harvesting lobster.

Jusce (Jose Maria Alves), an orphan whose father died in the trade, collects enough crustaceans to repair the family boat, but just when things are looking up, his infatuation with the sexy Ana (Rubia Rafaelle) leads him to ruin.

Film is studded with finely filmed underwater sequences that impart a dreamlike quality. Yet the point seems to be that the villagers’ lives have been taken over by artificial dreams supplied by sleazy TV soap operas to which they’re humorously addicted.

When Jusce fights off a rival for Ana’s materialistic affections by buying her a giant TV set, madness takes over. Pic’s semi-surreal ending, coming out of nowhere, is pretty unconvincing.

Cinematographer Andrij Parekh keeps the camera close to the non-pro actors, giving them an immediacy the acting largely lacks. Alves and Rafaelle certainly have the physique du role — spectacular, muscle-bound bodies are a way of life here — yet their characters are so unpleasantly stupid they’re hard to warm up to.

The whiny, self-centered Ana, in particular, is badly in need of some redeeming qualities to make viewers perceive her future with good-hearted Jusce as a happy one. Professional thesp Chico Diaz adds solidity as Jusce’s diving mate Joao.

Sonhos de Peixe

U.S.

Production

A Unison Films production. (International sales: Surreal Films, Paris.) Produced by Emanuel Michael, Jacob Michelson-Shamelashivili, Fernanda De Capua, Eliane Ferreira, Matias Mariani, Dario Bergesio. Directed, written by Kirill Mikhanovsky.

Crew

Camera (color), Andrij Parekh; editors, Adam Walsh, K.D. Klippning; music, Artur Andres Ribeiro; production designer, Monica Palazzo; costume designer, Yuli Fesithauer; sound (Dolby Digital), Aloysio Compasso. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week), May 21, 2006. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Jusce - Jose Maria Alves Ana - Rubia Rafaelle Joao - Chico Diaz Gringo - Yves Hofer
With: Phellipe Haagensen, Agridcio Nego da Silva, Antonio Macaro Nelson da Silva, maria das Does da Silva.
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