One of the films I was most keen to catch at this year’s LA Film Festival was the Portuguese hit of the European circuit, Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto. I nearly didn’t make it for, in an incomprehensibly idiotic bit of programming, there was less than twenty minutes to get from The Silence Before Bach in Westwood to the Landmark on Pico; it was either that or choose between the second August screening and the sole showing of much-praised United Red Army on Sunday. Presumably I am not the only fan of narrative experimentation faced with this quandary. Bah! But I made it literally just in time, for the charming opening, where a vixen prowls around a chicken coop, takes the plunge and comes up empty-handed (-pawed?).
Perhaps this was a metaphor for the making of the film. Gomes and his crew traveled to the region of Arganil (a popular August holiday destination) to make a conventional narrative film with the local inhabitants. But a producer died and money dried up and the movie as we have it opens as a documentary. And, it must be said, a pretty dull one. Much time on screen and the soundtrack is given over to the village bands, proudly trotting out their MOR night after night, of a woeful genre in which Tony Maneiro and Julio Iglesias are acknowledged classics. Or else we are treated to interminable ramblings from various villagers and repeated visits to the drunken fool who likes to jump off the handsome stone bridge every carnival; the patchwork episodes range from banal to irrelevant, and sometimes needlessly repetitive (unless, perhaps, as a vague metaphor for the film as a whole). More intriguingly, however, a couple of scenes near the start introduce us to the film-crew and Gomes, as sits with his producer and a ridiculously enormous script, discussing how none of it has been filmed and actors have not even been cast. A little later, two girls will approach the crew as they play quoits asking to be cast, and after a while, seamlessly, we find that they have.
For around the half-way mark, the film turns into a fiction. A roller-hockey boy to whom we’ve just introduced plays Hélder, with his parents visiting his father’s brother, played by the producer, and his daughter Tânia, played by the fire warden Sónia. Hélder joins their band and eventually gets it on with his cousin. Meanwhile, Tânia’s mother has gone missing some time before and there’s an increasing suggestion of incest in their reduced household (emphatically denied by heavy-handed shots of blood-stained sheets after the teens’ night of passion).
People and elements from the first half recur, and reality continues to intrude – a conversation is surreptitiously recorded between two of his (non-)actors, one of whom is anxious about last-minute line changes, the other of whom hums the song that will become the film’s theme tune. The camera style remains the same as in the documentary portion, bland and (in light of the emphasis on the ghastly music) perhaps deliberately ugly (although published stills suggest that the projectionist last night had things a little off) – one of the few attempts at something more takes place as the teens kiss for the first time on the bridge, all lens flare and the white light of burning passion, but even with the sound of the marching band behind them it fails to convey the implied exhilaration.
By the end, even some of the terrible songs are starting to sound good, although that’s partly thanks to Sónia’s rather nice untrained voice, and it’s easy to resent the dull meander we’ve taken to get to this point. The film represents a fantastically interesting concept, but the documentary elements are presented with such little panache and the fictional narrative so slight that it proves unrewarding in all except theory (exceptions being the strange personal insult song sung at a village feast, and the art-house low point of Hélder wanking over photos of his Tânia-doppelganger aunt).
The lackadaisical pace and focus could, I suppose, be defended as commitments to the rhythm and textures of real life, but at 2½ hours long it begs considerable indulgence; there were plenty of walkouts, but it’s a shame for those who nearly lasted the course that they missed the final scene. Hélder’s taken the bus back home (thus eliminating the attractive possibility that we’ve been seeing the dramatised story of an old man who rambled for a while at the start) and we cut to the silence of the forest. A tripod stands in the grass; the soundman is peacefully at work in a glade. Gomes confronts him about mysterious noises on the soundtrack which were not present when they filmed the corresponding scenes. Vasco the sound guy explains he’s not like other people, and that if he can hear music playing in the forest he will record it because that is his reality. Meanwhile, the credits roll over shots of the crew, each with representative tools of their trades. It is quite charming, and displays a wit and sense of the magic of cinema all too subdued in the rest of the picture.
learn more at the official site