Berlin Film Review: ‘Seashore’

Brazilian directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s transition from experimental shorts to wishy-washy coming-out feature leaves too much drifting between the lines.

Mateus Almada, Mauricio Jose Barcellos, Elisa Brites, Francisco Gick, Fernando Hart, Maite Felistoffa, Danuta Zaghetto, Irene Brietzke. (Portuguese dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4427060/

Blue is a fairly tepid color in “Seashore,” an agonizingly subtle Brazilian coming-of-ager in which a bi-curious teen ever so tentatively tests the water of his sexuality during a few days at the coast with a semi-estranged gay friend. At least, that’s a best-guess description of adolescence-obsessed shorts directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s first feature, which is so thin on specifics that it’s often difficult to discern exactly what is going on between its two young leads. Though right at home in Berlin’s often-challenging Forum section, “Seashore” will have a harder time finding sufficiently patient ports among LGBT fests.

Wan and listless in much the same way a teenager who’d rather lay about than do his chores might behave, “Seashore” resists whatever expectation adults might put upon a film to serve as a traditional narrative, forgoing details in favor of a loosely assembled collection of observational fragments: a lingering glance at a young man’s long-lashed eye here, an underage underwear-clad bottom there, garnished with a hazily viewed teenager toweling off after the shower.

Comprised mostly of free-floating scenes, shot as if the handheld camera were stationed in a boat rocking several yards away from the action, “Seashore” represents the sort of unfocused aesthetic that might beg the question what the cameraman is looking at exactly, if not for the elliptical editing, which further hides clues that would no doubt have been helpful in acquainting ourselves with its two teen protags.

Somewhere between the ages of 15 and 20, Martin (Mateus Almada) is young, male and Brazilian — that much we can tell by looking at him. Tomaz (Mauricio Jose Barcellos) is a bit shorter, fairer and slightly more inclined to test the boundaries. At one point, after a late-night game of truth or dare, he awakens the following day with pale blue hair. Though little is explicitly spelled out about the boys’ past dynamic, there are hints that perhaps they’ve drifted apart, and this off-season trip from Porto Alegre to the southern beach house belonging to Martin’s family could be a slightly awkward reunion.

Matzembacher and Reolon expect their audiences to read between the lines, dealing more in subtext than traditional scripting or exposition. Before the trip, Martin’s dad asks, “You know what to do?” but we don’t have any idea what he’s talking about — something to do with a “document” Martin is expected to collect from an old lady who appears to be his grandmother. Anyway, that task is little more than the MacGuffin intended to get the two boys back to the beach, where Tomaz doodles handsome men on the walls of public toilets and in the pages of his sketchbook.

Ever so subtly, a tension builds between the two boys, though in truth, it seems to come more from the camera than the characters. In much the same vaguely pedophilic way we’ve come to associate with Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark, the helmers gaze lustfully upon the boys, calculating that just because the audience presumably covets Martin and Tomaz, the characters must feel the same way toward one another. Still, the clues to that effect are not at all clear: “Seashore” could just as easily be the story of a straight dude discovering that his childhood friend is gay and coming to terms with how to deal with that information. The voyeuristic fantasy that he chooses to act on it doesn’t necessarily follow from a film that’s awkwardly grasping for a sense of poetic realism, although the title, the style, the location and so many other elements seem to be suggesting, relax, and just go with the flow.

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Berlin Film Review: 'Seashore'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 5, 2015. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: (Brazil) A Figa/BR presentation of an Avante Films production. (International films: Figa Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Marcio Reolon. (Original title: “Beira-Mar”)

Crew: Directed, written by Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon. Camera (color, widescreen), Joao Gabriel De Queiroz; editors, Bruno Carboni, Germano De Oliveira; music, Felipe Puperi; production designer, Manuela Falcao; sound, Tiago Bello.

With: Mateus Almada, Mauricio Jose Barcellos, Elisa Brites, Francisco Gick, Fernando Hart, Maite Felistoffa, Danuta Zaghetto, Irene Brietzke. (Portuguese dialogue)

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