A terrific idea is unevenly realized in Sergio Andrade and Fabio Baldo’s disappointing “Time Was Endless,” an attempt to explore the limbo of a young Amazonian native caught between tribal life and the modernity of Manaus. Striving for, but unable to approach, the lyricism of Andrade’s 2012 feature debut, “Jonathas’ Forest” (which was edited by Baldo), the pic needs a tighter script to tie together the awkwardly assembled elements of metafiction, drama and magical realism. Notwithstanding strong scenes, especially at the start, “Time” won’t be stopping long on the fest merry-go-round, though a gay component assures some rotation on the LGBT circuit.
There’s much promise in the opening sequences, in which tribesmen sedate fire ants and then insert the insects into a specially woven mitt used in an initiation ritual on 11-year-old Anderson (Thiago Almeida). Shot like a documentary, yet without the usual exoticizing elements that so often mar visual representations of such ceremonies, these scenes promise a straightforward, respectful p.o.v. without an anthropological overlay, and while Andrade and Baldo maintain that position throughout, they lose track of narrative cohesion.
Now a young man, Anderson (Anderson Tikuna) lives in a shantytown area of Manaus with his sister (Kay Sara) and her daughter (Ana Sabrina), who has Down syndrome. Tribal custom says the child should be sacrificed, but the siblings refuse to yield to the practice despite intense pressure from back home. In the city, Anderson works on an air-conditioner assembly line and then at a hair salon, but he feels no connection to these places, or to anything in his surroundings.
A very poorly integrated scene finds a spirit, in the guise of a nondescript white guy (Emanuel Aragao), telling Anderson not to forget where he comes from, yet as realized, the confusing incident is superfluous, inducing head scratching rather than offering insight into the young man’s ambivalent relationship to his heritage. Furthering his sense of not fitting in, Anderson is attracted to men. For tribal elders such as the old shaman (Severiano Kedassere), this is additional proof of the corrupting influence of urban life, and Anderson must be brought back to the village to literally straighten him out.
A sympathetic white co-op leader (Rita Carelli) is introduced, but her function is never made clear, and she becomes just one more half-considered piece in this poorly plotted puzzle. Were there a more clearly defined shift in narrative style between the city scenes and the village ones, or between Anderson’s two halves, so to speak, the film might have come together more effectively, but as it stands, “Time Was Endless” strives vainly to make something meaningful of the pressurized duality between so-called modernity and tribal life.
A hint of this comes through in a song Anderson sings, with a line about how there will always be someone to go fishing with. That’s true in the village, but such a traditional sense of community (fraught as it is with intolerance) doesn’t exist in the city, and the song yields one of the film’s sharper moments, in which the young man’s isolation makes an emotional impact. Lensing by Yure Cesar, also d.p. on “Jonathas’ Forest,” is generally attractive, keyed to a documentary sensibility. Not all the eclectic choices of music are well used: The lyrics to It’s Immaterial’s 1986 tune “Space” may have a generic contextual significance, yet it’s a bizarre choice for the closing credits.