For Brazilian director and visual artist Karim Aïnouz ‘action’ is the trigger of life – in contrast to the action cinema of fights, death and loss. Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro), his new film and an alumni of this year’s BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, stands as a powerful story of love, trepidation, migration and adventure told through the intimate melodrama of three men who are bonded together by passion for one another.

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The story revolves around Konrad (Clemens Schick), an Afghanistan war veteran and motorbike racer; lifeguard Donato (Wagner Moura); and his little brother, Ayrton (Jesuita Barbosa). With three immaculately wrought performances, what also marks Futuro Beach out is how it addresses issues of distance, queer spaces and displacement through Donato’s risk-taking decisions, his confusion and his sense of liberation away from home. Fuelled by certainty in the power of renewal, it’s dynamically filmed, with scenes shot in extreme speed or in the beautiful light of the early hours. Expect luminous club nights that transport you to Berlin’s dance scene, a treacherous ocean and a sense of the tides of youth’s optimism.

Karim Aïnouz and cast during production of Futuro Beach

How much is Donato’s journey personal to your own?

Part of it is absolutely personal, mainly the two cities. I come from Fortaleza and I have lived in Berlin for the past five years. One is my hometown, where I was born and where I lived till I was 18. The other is my present and my near future. I wanted to make a film that took place in places that I was intimate with. So it is a personal trajectory that mirrors Donato’s in that sense.

I also wanted to tell the story of a character who has a strong sense of displacement, and that sense triggers him to move, to travel, to dive in somewhere he doesn’t know. That is also a sensation I am very familiar with – travelling, moving from place to place, taking risks. So here again there is something else in common with Donato. Taking risks, experimenting, travelling, these are things that were very important to my generation, and I thought it would be relevant to talk about it today. Somehow these days I feel that fear has overshadowed courage.

But on the other hand there are also elements in Donato’s life that are not my own at all – I never had a brother for example. And I have always dreamed of having one. So Donato’s journey was also a way I found to imagine things I have not experienced – fiction is wonderful for that.

Last but not least I was very interested in talking about sexual diaspora, which is something that myself and my generation is very familiar with. I missed seeing films that dealt with the complexities of that.

Futuro Beach (2014)

Architecture is carefully depicted in your film, especially when Donato moves to Berlin.

Architecture, and therefore space and place, is a subject that I find central when developing a story, when imagining a character. Here what we have is a character who is highly uncomfortable with where he comes from. Praia do Futuro is a place that is being corroded, that is somehow crumbling – the concrete is being eaten by the salt. Somehow that could also be a description of Donato – a young man being corroded, in need of change. And then he ventures into the old world, he crosses the Atlantic and lands in Berlin, a city that has been bombed, torn apart, an old European city that has been erased and has been rebuilt.

It is this irony of sorts that somehow interested me – this contradiction. Brazil – the new world, the sea and its equatorial dystopia – and Europe, the old continent, which is, particularly in Berlin, reinventing itself, dreaming of the future, searching for a utopia which can go beyond all the tragedies it has been through.

Berlin is portrayed in a two-fold manner: the Berlin of Donato is messier, older, dishevelled. And then when Ayrton arrives, Berlin is depicted as a sort of retro-futuristic space, the soviet Sputnik dream. Architecture and space are here at the service of narration but also as a capital element in the construction of cinematic space. Futuro Beach is a landscape film, a film where characters are trapped in landscape, where characters are also liberated by landscape.

One of my dreams is to make a movie about romantic landscapes. When I think of Caspar David Friedrich, my heart beats stronger. And somehow Donato is a bit like the characters in Friedrich’s paintings that are standing at the edge of a cliff. But here it is an equatorial cliff, bright, caustic – and he is ready to jump instead of only watching the landscape filled with melancholia. I wanted to have a melancholic character, bursting with violence, ready to explode.

Futuro Beach (2014)

What inspired the look of the film and the way you used light?

My biggest literary inspiration when thinking of the film was Moby-Dick, as well as travel diaries, adventure novels, stories of travelling and love. Visually I was very interested in Stephen Shore’s work and his depiction of travelling through the US. His photos are so exciting. Along with him there was the master of colour photography, William Eggleston. And then there were these beautiful diaporamas from Nan Goldin.

So as I started to imagine the film, I immediately thought of slides, reversal film, 35mm photography and old-school slide shows. There was the question of capturing these very different kinds of light: the harsh, blinding almost white light of the equator and then the filtered soft light of northern Europe. What would be the best support to capture those different textures and still be in the same space, in the same movie? I was never convinced with how digital formats captured harsh equatorial light. It somehow had no mystery, it looked like TV reportage, there were no details, everything looked flat.

When we did the tests with film we finally managed to register these two ‘light spaces’ with all their subtleties, the details, the sensation of colour that these different light universes evoke. We used 50 ASA for the outdoors day scenes and then 250 ASA for the outdoor scenes in Berlin. And then finally I had the images I had imagined.

Futuro Beach (2014)

Another important element was to depict these two places and to have a sensation we are in the same movie. Brazil is full of colours, the sky, the ocean, but the architectural surfaces are very faded due to the sun. And yet in Berlin it was the opposite: the light is filtered but there are points of very strong colours in the landscape, in the wardrobe of the characters, in the interiors, in the light of the interiors.

As a visual artist have your collaborations with other artists like Olafur Eliasson had any impact on your work?

I am very interested in the experimental aspect of contemporary visual arts. I think in cinema, in fiction in particular, there is always the narrative compass, the story, the beginning, middle and end. And the audience is central: the physical position of the audience is very fixed.

In visual arts I think one finds another kind of freedom. There is a fluidity that is very inspiring. For me it is always important to intersperse my practice, to do fiction films and to do installations, to do photography, to experiment.

My collaboration with Olafur was incredible in the sense that his work is abstract, it is a work that comes together through experience and the position of the audience is interacting with the work itself. Besides that, it was so inspiring to think of how abstraction and a more active spectatorship can be thought of in cinema. Making Futuro Beach was concomitant with our collaboration and it certainly affected it – how can I make a movie where the viewer is also able to imagine its own story?

Futuro Beach (2014)

I have also just finished an essay documentary on Diego Velázquez, for ARTE, and it was wonderful. Painting is actually very close to cinema – it is a very personal visual translation of the world. It is always very inspiring to be able to have a more hybrid practice that is constantly drifting from narrative cinema to visual experimentation.

I have always loved painting and photography, but I am very aware I am not a talented painter. So painting has always been very central to the way I think of filmmaking. And the process of painting or of thinking of an installation or making a collage is very intuitive – you don’t plan it, you do it as you go. I try to contaminate filmmaking with that, the most I can. I try to always keep it alive, breathing – and always keeping a certain mystery. If there is no mystery, what is the interest?

What impact, if any, has your distance from your family had in your work as filmmaker and why did you choose to focus on this subject in Futuro Beach?

Displacement. What a dear theme of mine. It keeps haunting me. It is a feeling I am very familiar with. Can you imagine being born in a country where when you say your name people always go, what? I am born from a Brazilian mother and an Algerian father, a very rare mix, but a mix nonetheless. And in the 70s, in Brazil, that was very rare. Especially in the small city I was born in (the city in Futuro Beach). So I have always felt that I belonged there, but that I also belonged somewhere else in the world.

Futuro Beach (2014)

There was also an urge to leave, to venture into the world. So somehow, in all the stories I choose, this element, this feeling of displacement and this urge to leave, somehow slips in. In some films more than others, but it is always present.

When I was growing up, being bi-national, being mixed, being from different places at once, was actually not a source of pleasure, but of anxiety. But slowly it became an incredible feeling, the feeling of not belonging, of being in constant movement, of shifting from one place to another. In Futuro Beach that is very central.

Futuro Beach screened as part of the 29th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival.