Unknown pleasures abound in Miguel Gomes’s utterly unique film. By STEVE GARDEN.

Our Beloved Month of August is the second feature by the relatively unknown Portuguese filmmaker, Miguel Gomes. On the strength of this film, he probably won’t be unknown for long, but he could have as many naysayers as fans. Personally, I’m happy to side with those who see quality and potential in Gomes, but as good as August is, I can’t quite go so far as to declare it the masterpiece that some have. At 150 minutes, it might just be a little leisurely, and the freewheeling style of the first half is likely to irritate some. However, if you have patience for the slow (very slow) build up, there are plenty of subtle bits-of-business to savour. Just don’t expect the film to take any meaningful narrative shape for a good hour – at least!

Mingling live Portuguese pop music with the story of three traveling musicians, I know nothing about the making of the film, so it’s hard to judge the veracity of the factual and fictional elements in what is generally taken to be a film that ‘starts as a documentary then morphs into dramatic fiction’. On the face of it that seems to be what happens, but I suspect that Gomes is much more in control of his film than we are (mischievously) led to believe. I could be wrong of course, but that’s part of the pleasure of this extremely unique film – and I mean unique! I can’t think of another like it. It’s tempting to cite Manoel de Oliveira (unwaveringly active despite turning 101 [gulp] in a few months, and whose new film, Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl, is screening at this festival) and the late João César Monteiro (an iconoclast to the end) as possible influences. Gomes has a similarly dry (very dry!) and ironic wit as his two Portuguese elders, and the opening scene (of a fox eyeing-up caged chickens) may well be a tip-of-the-hat to Monteiro. This is followed by a poem in which João de Deus (a character Monteiro played in his films) is mentioned. There may be no connection at all of course, but that’s part of the pleasure...

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» Summer Loving: Our Beloved Month of August