December 5, 2013
Girimunho, a dream-like Brazilian gem
“She’s the most charming person ever. Not only with me, it’s the same with anyone who arrives in her home. You go there, an Argentine, you don’t speak Portuguese, and nonetheless Bastu will greet you with a wonderful smile, she’ll give you a warm hug and it won’t matter that you speak a foreign language and don’t understand it all. Hers is a universal language, she’s a woman who exudes love, tenderness, bliss. She says she’s cried only once in her life, when she was a kid, and it’s true. Her only worry is simply to live, without thinking she’s old,” says Brazilian director Helvécio Marins Jr. about his remarkable début feature Girimunho (2011), co-directed with Clarissa Campolina, and written by Felipe Bragança — now showing at the Leopoldo Lugones Auditorium of the San Martín Theatre (1530 Corrientes Ave.)
Girimunho, a fiction film with a strong documentary edge, tells the story of Bastu, an 81-year-old woman living in a small town in the Brazilian sertão (backcountry), whose husband, Feliciano, has just passed away. Bastu does mourn her loss, indeed, but her life does not come to a halt because of his death. Instead, she moves on. She says time is a gift, so why waste it? Bastu has always thrived on life, so it’s not surprising she enjoys dancing in the batucada, having seemingly trivial conversations with her longtime friend María, going about her daily routine, or even telling her husband’s ghost to stop bothering her with all the noise he makes in the workshop. She happens to like imagining life as she contemplates the landscape surrounding her. She can be meditative and introspective enough to have a most intimate contact with nature in its entire splendour, and yet she’s also outgoing and outspoken so as to be in touch with her loved ones and other folks as well.
There’s also the story of Maria, a friend of Bastu’s, another wise old lady who’s also young at heart; and there’s Branca, the girl who wants to leave the small town to go to nursing school. In a sense, Girimunho is about all of them, even if it focuses on Bastu. It’s a film about a place and its soul, its inhabitants and their everyday occurrences.
Helvécio Marins Jr. and Clarissa Campolina go for an intimate portrayal of people and the environment they live in with an uncommon subtlety and a poetic sense of looking at life. They also go for what lies inside the people’s hearts. In depicting Bastu’s routine, the filmmakers explore her sense of pride, what she treasures in life, how she manages to find pleasure and joy in the simplest things, how she overcomes adversity and what she does with the past when it has become a burden for the present and future. She misses her husband dearly, but she also reckons there’s no need to keep ghosts around her life. That’s mainly why she doesn’t hesitate when she decides to get rid of old stuff that belonged to him. It’s like starting over — at 81, that is.
Girimunho is not film made out of words, although it’s spoken and there are some interesting lines to remember (“We don’t live or die, we are neither old nor young, we just live,” says Bastu at the ending), but a film made of pristine images, both austere and seducing. It’s easy to see that the cinematography is a key asset here, but not because it’s so technically accomplished (which is a plus, of course), but mostly because the visual design conveys a sense of place which is so tangible and immediate that you can’t help being emotionally and sensorially immersed into it. Not only into the place itself, but also into the diverse moods it conjures.
Dark shadows and half-shadows encompass characters and things, which seem to exist in a suspended time. A dream-like atmosphere permeates the entire film, characters appear and disappear, and, in the meantime, small changes take place. And, unlike many films with a strong formalistic edge, Girimunho is never self-indulgent or distractive. It’s not one of those films that only look great and fail to communicate anything other than its own beauty. Perhaps it’s because it speaks about the people, what they think and feel, and how they behave, and this is what makes Girimunho such a sensitive, heartfelt cinematic experience.
By the way, the people depicted here are playing themselves, with their own joys and tribulations, and much of what happens actually took and takes place in their real, unscripted lives — but this is not to say Girimunho is a documentary one hundred percent. Much has been created especially for the film, and a storyline to have these characters interact was also written. But that doesn’t make it into a fiction film one hundred percent either. It so happens that Girimunho lies somewhere between the blurry frontier that separates reality from fiction, and the fact that you can’t tell whether something came straight out of reality or was instead scripted only adds to the appeal of such a unique piece of work. It makes it all the more special.