Tuesday 7 July 2020

She dances on the sand: "Breakwater"

In my review of 2017's Centre of My World, I noted an emergent cliché within queer cinema's blooming coming-of-age genre: the overhead shot of semi-clad young bodies artfully configured on a sunsoaked jetty. Breakwater, the half-hour documentary short premiering this week on MUBI, is practically Non-Hetero Jetty: The Movie - a defining early image finds its young female subjects basking shirtless in the sun - but it fully inhabits that safe space, factoring in those same subjects' experience and thereby coming up with a more rounded, lived-in picture than those earlier, callow postcards. For director Cris Lyra, her coastal locations are a getaway, an escape, somewhere one might run to once all other options have been exhausted or shut down. To this end, she's tagged along with a coach party containing a small coterie of lesbian friends, all in their late teens or early twenties, from varied ethnic backgrounds. What ensues, once they arrive at their destination, is like a chapter from Gurinder Chadha's Bhaji on the Beach revoiced in Portuguese: the girls talk about their love lives, how they style themselves, their efforts to reconcile their sexuality with their heritage.

What's immediately notable is how relaxed they are - far more so, one imagines, than any comparable subset of gay or lesbian holidaymakers would have been a generation or two ago. Perhaps that's down to the becalmed setting; more likely, it seems to me, it's due to the fact that these girls have found one another. No-one appears particularly alone here: that early jetty shot isn't just an image of idleness but togetherness, collective intimacy. As these fellow travellers hang out, chat, sing, touch one another, strip to reveal defiant tattoos and body hair, the casual observer might wonder whether the film is becoming too laidback for its own good. It's then you have to remind yourself that it was filmed in the land of Bolsonaro, where being gay is at best frowned upon by the powers-that-be. What Lyra counters with here - and it is, in its own small, quiet way, a powerful image - is a self-sustaining, mutually supportive network, of a kind women are generally better at forming than we sad and solitary men. That image remains a little rough around the edges - some of the sound is a little tinny - but what it's saying comes through loud and clear, not least in a couplet from a song the pals compose during one of this short film's many afternoons that seem to stretch out forever: "Resistance is a woman/A girl, a flower". A question floats up on the horizon: what happens to these girls when they have to leave the jetty behind?

Breakwater is available to stream from today via MUBI UK.

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