What: Film Review
Directed and Written by: Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon
Produced by: Marcio Reolon
Executive Produced by: Filipe Matzembacher, Tainá Rocha
Starring: Matheus Almada, Maurício Barcellos, Ariel Artur, Elisa Brittes, Fernando Hart
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles
Running Time (in min.): 83 minutes
Official Selection of the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival
In the United States, the media’s primary interest in LGBTQ youth has been on their tragedies, their victimization, and their struggles. This rule-of-thumb is truer than ever in independent film, where personal trauma and bildungsroman walk too consistently hand-in-hand. Naturally, it is an intense relief when a project comes along with pleasure and possibility, rather than grief and abuse, as its central themes. The relief, however, is often short-lived.
Optimism and connection are the distinguishing emotional foci of the otherwise undemanding foreign-language teen drama Beira-Mar, an independent Brazilian feature now available on DVD and VOD as Seashore thanks to Wolfe Video. A World Premiere at Berlin earlier in 2015, the film follows two queer young men, one already certain of his sexuality and the other, his close friend, on the edge of a discovery. They adore one another in the way that cigarette-smoking, name-calling bros can adore others; thanks to the actors, their faux-hyper-masculine interactions reek with equal parts adulation, duplicity, and unspoken lust.
On the shores of a quiet Brazilian town are distant relatives that Martin (Matheus Almada) and Tomaz (a simmering, subtle Maurício Barcellos) need to visit for ambiguous reasons. There’s a matter of lost money, for one, and a funeral to attend, but also the fact that these boys are very nearly men; and as young guys do, they need a little time away from their lives and responsibilities. Their trip to the ocean is as much for their own sanities as teenagers as for the errands they must accomplish. Under the guidance of writer/directors Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon (who also produced), the journey in Seashore feels disconnected from reality, the characters lost in a miasma of pheromones, gaudy hair dye, skimpy bathing suits, and ocean air. The summer is a dream, the time together fantastical and even literally illusory at times. Think Stand By Me on the oceanside, and without the murder.
Almada and Barcellos, who prepared for the film over a seven-month stretch, inhabit their characters fully, rendering every glance and motion meaningful. Their car rides, which were partly improvised, speak to enormous levels of frustration and mistrust between them. We are forced to ask early what emotional foundation these two have for continuing to see one another. And the answer, which suggests itself throughout in these looks and touches, only comes at the film’s climax. While both performers prove winning, Barcellos in particular, as a pubescent clear about his orientation but still searching for a way to merge his sexual and social lives, finds the calm center in Tomaz and never once breaks it. His behavior is controlled, his face even more so; it’s a lovely performance, improved further by his partnernship with Almada. Though Martin is the less expressive and perhaps more remote character, the two embody a friendship in danger – it could end tomorrow, or last until their deaths, depending on how the trip goes.
Beyond their performances, and expert photography by João Gabriel de Quieroz, though, Beira-Mar never quite escapes from the trappings of vague story and a somewhat impersonal visual style. Matzembacher and Reolon guide the actors smoothly, but so little of the dialogue takes place in more than three or four lines, resulting in a serious lack of drama. There are no complex or thoughtful conversations. When the boys do speak up, as when Martin is forced to confront angry relatives in the village, the conversations are silly, almost risible. They’re upset, we understand that – but why need one of the actors stand glowering over Martin like a sociopathic bully? The film is hardly meant to be Expressionistic.
It’s a minor and mere example, but as parts of the whole, scenes like this speak to the discontinuities that may harm the film on the international festival circuit, where it continues to tour. Most likely, Beira-Mar will follow a path carved beautifully – and still relevantly, these days – by Wolfe, moving steadily on-demand into the minds of the media-saturated home audience, from person to person. I suspect that queer-identifying and supporting viewers will take the film up with admiration for its themes, its game young stars, and its aesthetic beauty. Thank goodness for this, I say: in a world where so many films make it to Netflix only to begin a second run of popularity, the stakes are high for Matzembacher and Reolon’s centered and naturalistic style to reach new levels. Watching this, I could not help but ask whether their film be lost in the sea of international releases, or serve as a gateway to bigger and hopefully better works on the same themes?