Makeshift Worldings in “Beira-Mar”

By Billy-Ray Belcourt

Recall Kathleen Stewart’s claim that worldings are accumulative; that they elbow into the ordinary with the precision and anonymity of enigmas and background noise. The senses acclimatize to the something’s assembly (we notice that something is happening or that we are becoming part of something), and living on feels workable again. The shape of the near-future might catch us unawares, but its buildup begins with the antecedent or affective prior of the something’s palpability.

Stewart points out that there is a kind of “laboured viscerality” to “being in whatever’s happening.” If you don’t pay close attention, worlds concrete vis-à-vis hard-won or laissez-faire attachments. [1] Worldings are thus about how a population adapts to even the smallest tailwinds. What is to be said, though, about the different magnitudes, durations, and intensities with which worlds become habitable and then sometimes not?

Felipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s Beira-Mar (2015), or Seashore, asks these questions, beginning in the throes of fraying social worlds, big and small. The film spans a weekend, as estranged friends Martin (Mateus Almada) and Tomaz (Marício Barcellos) travel to a coastal Brazilian town to sort out an inheritance. By way of bildungsroman-like affect, Beira-Mar gets at the weak resonances that make queer worlds feel livable, slip-sliding in and out of the clockwork-like rhythms of aggressive heteronormativity.

From the opening sequence, the film refuses to prop up dramatic narrative architectures, as if dropping the viewer in the thick of an everyday that’s been dragging on for quite some time now. Tomaz lays awake and still in a bed; his cell phone vibrates. Cut. Martin reads a book on a couch and a landline telephone’s ringing smothers the frame. The camera’s shaky movements trespass on the amateur documentary’s aesthetic form, working up a kind of ethnographic imperative to bear witness to something simultaneously in the making and stubbornly run-of-the-mill. As the film quickly migrates across unidentified geographies, the viewer is recruited not merely to study or to occupy the film’s diegesis; rather, the boys are cathected with uneven forms of affect, sometimes stalling what Patricia MacCormack calls spectatorship’s “desiring subjectivity.” [2]

Almost immediately, the viewer is drawn into the patchy social worlds of teenage life, as the near-horizon of adulthood forces intimacy to take on a kind of ersatz organizing power. It is here, where heterosexuality suffocates Beira-Mar’s narrative; it becomes like a score to a film you’ve watched over and over again. Sociality is gleaned from shared joints, cigarettes, and alcohol, and the word ‘fag’ repeatedly fails to interpellate any enduring subjects. Matzembacher and Reolon don’t pretend to have something they don’t; heterosexuality containerizes the film’s tempos and habits and sex becomes what’s keeping Martin attuned to life. For queer boys like Tomaz, this is the ordinary’s grater wounding us for wanting to be in the world.

The film repeatedly loiters on Tomaz and Martin’s glances, squints, and stares, marinating in the risky and brief moments when bodies meet in others and desire shape-shifts in seconds and then back again. The here and now, José Muñoz writes, is a prison house, and to “access queer visuality we may need to squint, to strain our vision and force it to see otherwise.” [3] Far from announcing the arrival of a new kind of social, Beira Mar stokes the small idiosyncrasies and ruts in the here’s prison house, capturing this sort of otherwise in the flesh.

In one scene, Tomaz’s queer looks catch Martin’s naked body in the bathroom, but the frame blurs the object and then quickly turns elsewhere. In another, Tomaz and Martin are dared to kiss, and the closet becomes not just a metaphorical incubator of queer life, but also a literal muster point for bodies whose sexualities are frustratingly imprecise and improvised. It is in this precarious and unsure mode of relaying queer happenings that Beira-Mar gets at the ways queerness slows down the present and fades in and out of it.

It would be reckless to read the characters’ hesitancies to commit to queerness’s telos as a form of internalized homophobia or sexual immaturity. Instead, Beira-Mar shows how queerness comes and goes, as its makeshift worlds are tenuously held together by shabby and sloppy affects. Worldings might presuppose a sort of permanency; once something becomes something we’re in, we stay there for a while. But, I am suggesting that queer worldings are characteristically short, that they quickly ratchet up patchwork geographies within which haste and experimentation are workable socialities.

Case in point: the film dovetails with a scene sparse in dialogue, as Martin kisses Tomaz in the wake of his coming-out. By this point, Martin is mourning the loss of his grandfather, letting grief give way to intimacy because both affects want bodies they need to know anew. At first, even the camera seems shocked, as it struggles to do anything about or to document this kind of queer closeness. Their bodies are jettisoned in and out of the camera’s frame, and we are only anchored in its affect by the familiar sounds of kissing and colliding skin. There is a sense that they are preparing for the sex’s end before it arrives. Here, the camera’s movements hurry the viewer’s gaze, urging us to try and encounter the everything of the happening. This is a hastily thrown together queer world, and the evidence of its occurrence are fingers pushing into skin and their short-lived residues. Matzembacher and Reolon refrain from imaging the whole of it, as if that would trick us into thinking this were bigger than a few minutes. The frame disappears into nothingness, and perhaps that is precisely the impermanency with which queer worlds unfold.

Beira-Mar is where Muñoz’s “ephemera” meets Foucault’s “heterotopias.” Processes of queer worlding occur in the underbelly of the normal. They are still a part of the World, but also aggregate formations that hang “in the air like a rumor,” to use Muñoz’s language. [4] Sometimes worldings only last about two or three seconds. Queerness is felt in the immediate now as a jerry-rigged feeling; not one that remains or holds onto time, but one that travels across temporal scales fugitively.

In queerness, there’s always the risk that this or that world will fall apart. Maybe Beira-Mar is about the sense of loss that tailgates queerness’s something. To be queer is to anticipate and resign oneself to the fact of queerness’s disappearing acts. Something buzzes, and then doesn’t. The film ends with Martin’s body disfigured by the camera’s rapid panning, and what we’re left with is a world beside itself. I therefore want to modify Muñoz’s seminal claim that “queerness is not yet here.” [5] Perhaps queerness is here and then not, a promiscuous sign under which worlds that are always disassembling cohere, such that being in life hangs in the balance. For queers, worldings are makeshift, ghosted by the hardened crusts of a World inhospitable to our points of contact and modes of feeling. It’s difficult to keep up with the titillation and tragedy of multiple worldings, but queer presents do exist, if only momentarily.

NOTES

[1] Kathleen Stewart, “Atmospheric Attunements,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29 (2011): 445-448.

[2] Patricia MacCormack, Cinesexuality (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, 2008): 1.

[3] José Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009): 21.

[4] Ibid., 65.

[5] Ibid., 1.

 

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