By 02 July, 2012

Girimunho or ‘Swirl’, is a part documentary and part fictional representation of village life in Brazil. This ethnographic ‘art cinema’ work is the first feature film from directors Clarissa Campolina and Helvecio Marins Jr. The deliciously mellow pace matches that of the characters’ lives and allows the audience to just sit back and let the atmospheric images wash over them. To move any faster, would do the subject matter an injustice. The rhythm follows that of the protagonist, a Brazilian grandmother living with her two granddaughters. These non-professional actors show us their world in improvised scenes.

The initial event – the death of the grandfather – provides a premise for the family to lightly ponder the meaning of things and poeticise about where they may be going in life. The grandmother’s own inevitable death adds to this reflective quality. The veil between this life and the next is fine as she experiences mildly supernatural interferences from her dead husband. In this domestic setting, the spiritual world is presented as being part of normal life. It is not taken out of context or romanticised, rather the two worlds live interweaved and alongside one another.

Much of this film is about being, thinking and reflecting, as well as the beauty found in simplicity. The honesty of this is refreshing. It presents a world rather than fabricating one. Often, the viewer observes the home through doorways, which frame the characters, giving it a voyeuristic feel. We are not fully let in nor are we are given the illusion that we could step into it in but then this is not our world. This was only occasionally jarring when character’s faces were not visible as they spoke. At these moments the subtitles were not enough to give away the tone in which they interacted. At other times, the humour and relish with which the grandmother communicated was wonderfully abundant.

The light philosophical exchanges come in between dances and traditional songs but the real poetic beauty of this film is found in the images. At times they are reminiscent of ‘social realist’ art. Even if you are not drawn into this film due to its faint narrative, you cannot help but admire the stunning images. We see sunlight as it falls on leaves being swept away and seeping through a window. These unremarkable scenes are beautifully captured, yet not over-blown.

We are left with the grandmother, wading out into the water in a childlike manner. She is a charming character with a raucous laugh and so much life inside. Through her, we are offered a view of a world that is far from our own but with a sense of the universal human experience.

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