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Film Review: ‘August Winds’

Other than a dead body washing ashore, this atmospheric, strikingly lensed drama avoids straightforward narrative.

Dandara de Morais, Geova Manoel dos Santos, Maria Salvino dos Santos, Antonio Jose dos Santos, Gabriel Mascaro.

Docu helmer Gabriel Mascaro makes his fiction feature debut with “August Winds,” an atmospheric, meditative drama with nonfiction elements set in Brazil’s northeastern Alagoas state. More a rumination on the uncontrollable forces of time than a straightforward narrative, the pic follows a restless young woman and her b.f., the latter becoming slightly unhinged when a dead body washes ashore. The trade winds of the title are an underused leitmotif, symbolizing the inexorable erosion of mind, life and land. While unlikely to make much of a splash, “August Winds” is a respectable, strikingly lensed debut, and could become a sturdy fest item.

Mascaro’s unerringly well-composed images, often making use of static shots suitable for framing, are the real star here, providing memorable visual appeal greater than that of the disjointed story. An early case in point: bikini-clad Shirley (Dandara de Morais), shot from behind as she’s lying on a small blue fishing boat, pouring Coca-Cola over her body as a tanning lotion. The image is as unexpected as Shirley’s choice of music: the Lewd’s punk classic “Kill Yourself.”

On work days, she drives a truck hauling coconuts, and in the evening cares for her elderly grandmother (Maria Salvino dos Santos), who tells her, without excessive bitterness, of the cruelty of age. Shirley is in a relationship with Jeison (Geova Manoel dos Santos), who also works on the coconut farm and is frequently berated by his highly critical father (Antonio Jose dos Santos). One day a meteorologist (helmer Mascaro) turns up measuring the winds, a concept the villagers find peculiar. Shortly after, Jeison finds a bloated body on the beach, possibly with a bullet wound, and becomes obsessed with cleaning the corpse as he tries to get the authorities to claim it.

The meteorologist’s brief presence marks the beginning of a rupture, yet the character basically wanders in and out, and it’s unclear whether he’s the dead guy. Mascaro isn’t interested in psychology and instead simply sketches in thoughts and motivations (Shirley’s boredom, Jeison’s father’s dissatisfaction) without exploring them, much in the manner of an observational documentary. The real connective tissue is the locale, a semi-idyllic yet poor seaside village whose beaches, and cemetery, are slowly eaten away by rising tides. In this place where time should move slowly and languorously, the wind and sea erode elements of deceptive permanence, and the transitory nature of life catches only the young by surprise.

Strong colors and exceptionally clean images denote better digital quality than in many similar indie pics. Though the wind is meant to be a key component, Mascaro oddly takes little advantage of its sound.

Film Review: 'August Winds'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 8, 2014. Running time: 75 MIN. Original title: “Ventos de Agosto.”

Production: (Brazil) A Desvia production, in association with Lucinda Films, Cinecolor Digital. (International sales: Figa Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Rachel Ellis. Executive producers, Ellis, Stefania Regis.

Crew: Directed by Gabriel Mascaro. Screenplay, Mascaro, Rachel Ellis. Camera (color, HD), Mascaro; editors, Ricardo Pretti, Eduardo Serrano; production designer, Stefania Regis; costume designer, Mascaro; sound, Victoria Franzan, Mauricio d’Orey.

With: Dandara de Morais, Geova Manoel dos Santos, Maria Salvino dos Santos, Antonio Jose dos Santos, Gabriel Mascaro.

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