One beach, two cities, three men: Journeys of the self in Karim Aïnouz’s Future Beach

in 36th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Zaire Zarza

The diasporic condition of non-belonging is a central feature in Karim Aïnouz’s latest film Future Beach [Praia do futuro, 2014]. Aïnouz is a Brazilian audiovisual artist  of Algerian descent who lives currently in Germany, so diasporic subjectivity has been imprinted on his personal experience and that of his family for generations. The yearning, the longing, the deep saudade, the complexity of affective relations and the roots and lack thereof that the film denotes, are probably direct and/or indirect references to the filmmaker’s own position as a migrant, transnational artist in the diaspora. Implicitly, the movie presents a mode of self-inscription that alludes to the filmmaker’s resettlement in Berlin since 2006, after living in several cities of the world. Future Beach premiered at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and went on to be part of the official selection of the recently celebrated Havana Film Festival, where it was awarded the Coral Prize for both Best Sound Design and Original Soundtrack to recognize the quality of the enigmatic soundscape of the film and the music, written and composed by the German pianist and composer Hauschka.

From his debut feature Madame Satã (2002) onward, each and every film by Aïnouz has been awarded at the Havana Film Festival. Love for Sale [O céu de Suely] won Best Film and Best Actress in 2006; I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You [Viajo porque preciso volto porque te amo, 2009], co-directed with Marcelo Gomes, received the Coral Award for Best Artistic Contribution in its competing year, and The Silver Cliff [O abismo prateado] obtained the Best Actress accolade for Alessandra Negrini in 2011.

If Love For Sale and The Silver Cliff were essentially films about women, Praia do futuro is a movie where men and the universe of masculine body politics and identities are central. Shot in Fortaleza –the birthplace of the filmmaker, in Ceará Northeastern Brazil—and in Berlin, the film has generated controversy for its depiction of intense sexual encounters of a male gay couple. However, this is not only a movie about homosexuality but it is also—and foremost—dealing with characters who struggle with the search for the multiple, constructed possibilities of one’s identity and the many sexualized, gendered, racialized and performative routes to the self. Thus, it is a story that explores the intersectionalities of queerness and diaspora while it unsettles the idea of home and questions the notion of “heroes” who become humanized and demystified as the story advances. (It is not an accident that the film’s closing theme is Helden, the German version of David Bowie’s Heroes.) The well-known, excellent bahiano actor Wagner Moura and 23-year-old revelation Jesuíta Barbosa, who had already starred in Hilton Lacerda’s first feature film Tatuagem in 2013, are joined in the cast by the German actor Clemens Schick. Moura interprets Donato, a beach attendant in Fortaleza’s Future Beach who falls in love and enters a requited relationship with Konrad, a tourist that loses a friend to drowning. A great swimmer and a life guard, Donato is idolized by his child brother, performed in his adulthood by Barbosa.

The film depicts different kinds of loss in the journeys of these three men: Konrad loses his best friend, Donato loses or lets go of his home and his past, and Ayrton loses his innocence. Donato’s past, however, returns in the figure of the now grown-up irmão who makes it all the way north to Berlin seeking to find his hero. Although Konrad remains a rooted character that anchors the unsettled siblings, the individuals transform as the spaces change in their journeys.  It is impossible not to compare by contrast and similitude Fortaleza’s intensity and affect with Berlin’s beautiful but somewhat melancholic late winter scenery. The film depicts a spatial love affair with the Berlin of today and with the Fortaleza of the main characters—perhaps also of Aïnouz’s memory. As well as motorcycles, the beach, the ocean and particularly water is a fetishized, symbolic icon in the film. Allusions to the immensity of the ocean as life itself is immense, the absence of a beach in the new space of dwelling, and the change of water-related jobs from rescuer to pond cleaner, are metaphors that speak about many forms of emotional homelessness. Donato says himself at some point: “I don’t think I could ever live in a place with no beach”. But he ultimately does.

The narrative structure of the movie is divided into three moments that entail different temporalities and places. Shot entirely in Fortaleza, chapter number one: The Drowner’s Embrace, is the introductory segment where the accident occurs, the lovers meet and Ayrton appears as a child. The second section, A hero cut in half, describes Donato’s conflicts after moving to Berlin, following his beloved. There, the unfriendly environment, the challenges of learning a new language, the loneliness of the cold apartment he stays in and the lack of a reason, beyond Konrad himself, to stay in the city prevents Donato from meeting the ethnic stereotype of “all Brazilians are happy”. He decides not to return home and deal with the consequences of his decision. The third segment, A German-speaking ghost, is a leap in time that will eventually bring the hero down from his pedestal and help the three characters to acquire different dramaturgical dimensions. Only through Ayrton’s arrival, who now confronts Donato, we realize how much damage his disappearance had inflicted upon his family. The young man who had decided to leave home for love and with the illusion that he could be himself abroad failed to sustain his affective relations and completely neglected a loving family at home, who mourned his absence during his soul-searching process. His attitude feels questionable at the very least, and he is called a coward by the person who admires him most. His decision of wanting to take distance from the world of masculine stereotypes as a lifeguard in Future Beach also led him to hurt those who loved him. He missed his brother growing up and his mother’s passing when he cut every tie that linked him to his past. The last part of this segment is composed by an alleged dream of the younger brother who finally sees his idolized Donato fall down and lie on the ground after what seems to be a sort of reconciliation in which the German character Konrad also participates.

Future Beach exposes many traits of Hamid Naficy’s notion of “accented cinema”: multi-linguality (the film is spoken in Portuguese and German), a multinational cast and crew, moments of voice-over narration and self-reflexivity. The plot is driven by emotions more than by actions and there is a lack of a definitive closure with characters living between the liminal spaces of physiological states and social formations.  Cyclically, the film begins with images of two men riding their bikes under the strong sun across sandy dunes in Brazil, and it ends with a nearly five-minute shot of three men riding bikes in the fog towards an unknown place in Germany. This long moving shot of a highway, as “camino” or path that leads them towards an indefinite future, seems like a clear references to Love For Sale’s ending scene, in which escaping Hermila takes the bus that departs from rural Ceará and the camera follows them into the horizon.

In an interview conducted during the Berlinale, the filmmaker comments on how he feels at ease out of his comfort zones, “in a place where I don’t belong” and how he enjoys being away from home due to the restrictions of lifestyle and all that that it entails.  In this official Brazil-Germany co-production, Karim Aïnouz works again with recurrent collaborators such as art director Marcos Pedroso and cast director Fátima Toledo, as well as Marcelo Gomes and Sérgio Gomes, who contributed with revisions to the script. A fundamental film in the panorama of contemporary Brazilian cinema made both at home and abroad, Future Beach can be added to a now long list of diasporic audiovisual productions made overseas, which includes works such as Walter Salles and Daniella Thomas’s Foreign Land [Terra estrangeira, 1995] and Two Lost in a Dirty Night [Dois perdidos numa noite suja, 2002] by José Joffily. They all describe processes of adaptation and assimilation of the main characters facing new challenges of urban citizenship.

Edited by José Teodoro