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‘August Winds’ could become a sturdy fest item ‘Two Shots Fired’ has enough amusement, diversion

LOS ANGELES, Aug 17, (RTRS): Argentine helmer Martin Rejtman makes a predictably unpredictable return to features after a 10-year hiatus with “Two Shots Fired,” a nearly uncategorizable seriocomedy whose string of non sequiturs oddly mimics life’s implausibilities, without the emotion. Opening with a teen’s unmotivated attempt at self-destruction, which illogically engenders no physical consequences, the pic picks up on various family members and their extended circles, dropping storylines and characters with studied disregard for narrative arcs. Rejtman (“Rapado,” “The Magic Gloves”) doesn’t really go anywhere with the concept, yet there’s enough skill and amusement to hold fest audiences.

Surprisingly, given the deliberate removal of feeling or passion, viewers become attached to this likable group of people. Mariano (Rafael Federman), 16, comes home after dancing all night, mows the lawn, finds a gun in the tool shed, takes it to his bedroom and shoots himself twice, once in the head, once in the stomach. In this absurdist world, he’s barely injured. His mother, Susana (Susana Pampin), removes all sharp objects around the house, though Mariano says he’s neither anxious nor depressed: It was hot that day, and he did it on impulse. Mariano plays the wooden flute with an early music quartet, but the possible presence of a bullet in his body is giving him a doubled sound (his fellow players are largely understanding). 
Following his birthday party, Mariano, his brother Ezequiel (Benjamin Coehlo) and new friend Ana (Camila Fabbri) go to the beach; later, Mariano makes a date with Lucia (Manuela Martelli), who then rents a room from Susana and joins the musical ensemble. After taking three pills and sleeping for 72 hours, Susana goes on a beach trip with music teacher Margarita (Laura Paredes); they’re joined by Liliana (Daniela Pal), who needs a place to sleep. Providing any more plot detail would be superfluous other than to provide credit info for the actors, since the storyline is like a series of baton passes, each one with only a tenuous connection to what came before. Rejtman’s goal, it would seem, is to draw attention to life’s random trajectories — drastic acts don’t necessarily need to have consequences, and every story is like a limitless vine whose roots and tendrils mingle with others in unpredictable ways. The only concrete effect of Mariano’s shooting is the disappearance of the family dog and the doubled sound the teen plays his flute; all else could or could not have followed from this ultimately insignificant act. Of course, only fest audiences will go along with the irrationality of “Two Shots Fired,” and even then many will be looking for a more meaningful statement than simply: Life happens. The problem isn’t the absence of thematic cohesiveness but the lack of development — once the initial concept becomes clear, Rejtman doesn’t do anything more with what he’s built, and certain scenes, like Liliana’s need for a bathroom, go on too long. 
LOS ANGELES: Docu helmer Gabriel Mascaro makes his fiction feature debut with “August Winds,” an atmospheric, meditative drama with nonfiction elements set in Brazil’s northeastern Alagoas state. More a rumination on the uncontrollable forces of time than a straightforward narrative, the pic follows a restless young woman and her b.f., the latter becoming slightly unhinged when a dead body washes ashore. The trade winds of the title are an underused leitmotif, symbolizing the inexorable erosion of mind, life and land. While unlikely to make much of a splash, “August Winds” is a respectable, strikingly lensed debut, and could become a sturdy fest item. Mascaro’s unerringly well-composed images, often making use of static shots suitable for framing, are the real star here, providing memorable visual appeal greater than that of the disjointed story. An early case in point: bikini-clad Shirley (Dandara de Morais), shot from behind as she’s lying on a small blue fishing boat, pouring Coca-Cola over her body as a tanning lotion. The image is as unexpected as Shirley’s choice of music: the Lewd’s punk classic “Kill Yourself.”
On work days, she drives a truck hauling coconuts, and in the evening cares for her elderly grandmother (Maria Salvino dos Santos), who tells her, without excessive bitterness, of the cruelty of age. Shirley is in a relationship with Jeison (Geova Manoel dos Santos), who also works on the coconut farm and is frequently berated by his highly critical father (Antonio Jose dos Santos). One day a meteorologist (helmer Mascaro) turns up measuring the winds, a concept the villagers find peculiar. Shortly after, Jeison finds a bloated body on the beach, possibly with a bullet wound, and becomes obsessed with cleaning the corpse as he tries to get the authorities to claim it.
The meteorologist’s brief presence marks the beginning of a rupture, yet the character basically wanders in and out, and it’s unclear whether he’s the dead guy. Mascaro isn’t interested in psychology and instead simply sketches in thoughts and motivations (Shirley’s boredom, Jeison’s father’s dissatisfaction) without exploring them, much in the manner of an observational documentary. The real connective tissue is the locale, a semi-idyllic yet poor seaside village whose beaches, and cemetery, are slowly eaten away by rising tides. In this place where time should move slowly and languorously, the wind and sea erode elements of deceptive permanence, and the transitory nature of life catches only the young by surprise.
Strong colors and exceptionally clean images denote better digital quality than in many similar indie pics. Though the wind is meant to be a key component, Mascaro oddly takes little advantage of its sound.

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