Futuro Beach masks depleted drama under a progression of long takes, various music cues, and a three-chapter structure that grows successively tedious before reaching a thoroughly underwhelming conclusion. Director Karim Aïnouz continues an interest in the way characters understand their places within shifting geographical and social milieus from his previous films, but here a trio of protagonists are rendered less with an intuitive sense of melancholic despair than a manufactured grasping for their collective significance, which the film unremarkably boils down to indecisive love affairs and filial betrayals.
Donato (Wagner Moura) is a lifeguard at the Praia de Futuro beach in Brazil and despondent over a recently failed attempt to save a drowning surfer named Heiko. In a scene of encouragement from Ayrton, Donato’s adolescent brother, who assures him that as a lifeguard he’s Aquaman and incapable of “being lost at sea,” Aïnouz immediately establishes what develops into a series of curiously trite metaphors, banally and explicitly meant as symbols of burgeoning existential uncertainties. Soon after Konrad (Clemens Schick), Heiko’s traveling companion, appears to help search for his friend’s body, he and Donato begin a sexual relationship that Aïnouz renders with a detachment suggestive of a compulsive need in both men to feel human contact in lieu of reconciling their emotions over having been unable to stave off death. Their relationship continues for several years, leading to the film’s third chapter in which Ayrton (Jesuíta Barbosa), now a teenager, travels to Germany to find Donato after suffering with feelings of abandonment for the same span of time.
Aïnouz strikes a tonal chord throughout much of the film that’s successfully conversant with his characters’ inability to locate sustained meaning amid their harsh environs. As Konrad rides to the beach on his motorcycle, Aïnouz stages it against a backdrop of windmills and construction sites that serve as clear allusions to Michelangelo Antonioni’s comparable evocations of individual ennui against industrial formations. Likewise, as Donato sullenly sits in his apartment, a foregrounded wall nicely contrasts the cityscape seen just beyond the balcony, as if the shallow and deep spaces viewed are equally constraining in their irresolvable immediacies. Donanto can’t make sense of his relationship with Konrad and Ayerton, of the environs, both natural and man-made, which could conceivably offer either a permanent escape or respite from his responsibilities.
If the beach is Donato’s open-air sanctuary, the nightclub affords nocturnal release, and Aïnouz offers Donato in close-up throughout as he dances with abandon, forgetting his ails outside the moment’s immediacy. Yet these scenes proffer little more than a despair at the illusory repair suggested by urban culture, since Aïnouz refuses to grant Donato’s escape an honesty that’s free of ironic directorial intrusion, which is most notable in a scene that transitions into the film’s final third, as Donato dances, bathed in a monochromatic red, with a lamentful string piece on the soundtrack replacing the club’s beats.
When Ayrton appears seeking reconciliation with Donato after years of resentment regarding their fractured relationship, Aïnouz calls upon the hero metaphor suggested in the film’s first third to merely function as a standard reversal of failed mythological presumptions, with his characters bluntly realizing their base humanities as each attempts to reconcile pent-up hostilities. None of this tips into outright violence or aggression, but nor are there subtler suggestions made about the status of these relationships. When Donato is told, “you can’t keep running from your family,” it’s a rather straightforward assessment of familial decorum, no more figurative than when Konrad tells Ayrton a bit later, “your brother is worried about you.”
Aïnouz resolves these woes with a mistaken sense of aimlessness for the film’s characters that’s actually an absence within the film’s too pat conception of undiagnosable loneliness. Little displays this more than a shot of empty swings gently swaying in the snow near the film’s conclusion, as Ayrton chimes in via voiceover: “I had a weird dream yesterday.” From the hackneyed presentation of characters emptily staring into the distance, to Donato’s goofy assessment that “they globetrot and come die at the Futuro Beach,” little about Futuro Beach progresses past placeholder character motives and cultural assessments.