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Film Focus: Breakwater

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BristoLatino’s Rupert Comer comments on Cris Lyra’s Breakwater, a powerfully poignant Brazilian film exploring the power of friendship and sexuality.

Cris Lyra’s short Breakwater (2019) paints an intimate portrait of a group of young lesbians from São Paulo, who travel to a remote beach to celebrate the New Year. Through a series of conversations taking place as they relax on the beach, huddle around the campfire or trim each other’s hair, a snapshot of some of Brazil’s many potent social tensions becomes clear.

They talk, for instance, about what it is like to have frizzy hair in a country where whiteness is exalted, about the difficulties they faced explaining their sexuality to parents and grandparents, and of traumas acquired after participating in political protests. Each conversation is laced with humour and tenderness, and the voices take on a calming quality, accompanied by the crashing of the waves, or the gentle hum of the coach in the background.

While the young women talk of personal experiences, it is impossible to ignore the wider political significance of such experiences. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current right-wing populist president, has in the past described himself as “homophobic and very proud of it”. São Paulo may boast the world’s biggest Pride parade, yet sadly homophobia and transphobia remain rife, with Brazil ranked first among the world’s deadliest countries for trans people.

However, while Breakwater may bring many of these issues to the fore, it does so in such a way as to not provoke despair or hopelessness. The sense of community forged by the group of friends acts as a counterbalance to the traumas and ordeals they recount. Through their words of encouragement and their tactile nature with each other, we become aware of the strength of the group’s warmth and solidarity.

The film’s title ‘Breakwater’, perhaps refers to the importance of such solidarity. A breakwater is a wall built out at sea to protect a harbour from the force of the waves, and in a similar way the women in the film shelter each other from the hostile world they find themselves in. However, one scene suggests a different meaning. As the women play guitar and sing together in harmony, we hear the lyrics, “break the sea, break the tide, break the sea, woman”. Like a call to arms, the song shows the importance of going against the grain and breaking conventions. The young women in Breakwater may not fit perfectly into society’s norms, but it is their difference that gives them their power.

Breakwater is available to view on the MUBI streaming service