Our Beloved Month of August (2008), Portuguese cinema

Our Beloved Month of August (2008)

 

Our Beloved Month of August (Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto) is director Miguel Gomes’ celebration of life in rural Portugal during the month of August. Part documentary-style and part fictional narrative, it is a film divided into two halves. The first half appears to be a documentary, showing scenes of rural life in central Portugal, but in true Gomes style things are not always as they appear, and people who may or may not be real tell anecdotes which may or may not be true. Summer in this region is depicted through unrelated scenes showing local bands playing popular Portuguese songs in the village squares, the fire brigade preparing for the inevitable forest fires, a gathering of motorcycle groups at a campsite, and a religious procession. But these scenes are interrupted by a sub-plot where a film crew, led by a director (played by Miguel Gomes), is making a film in the area. Is the film we have started watching part of it? Maybe not, as the director admits to his producer that he hasn’t started filming yet. He then describes the film he wants to make, which leads neatly into the second half of the film.

This second half is a more conventional plot-driven narrative, concerning members of one of the bands that play in the village squares on summer nights, in particular, a teenage girl, Tânia (Sónia Bandeira), her father, Domingos (Joaquim Carvalho), and the girl’s cousin, Hélder (Fábio Oliveira). The plot focuses on the developing love between Tânia and Hélder, but there is a counter love story concerning Domingos and Tânia’s mother, who left Domingos several years ago. As a result Domingos is over-protective of his daughter, who bears a striking resemblance to her mother when she was younger, and the story takes on a dark tone for a moment.

In the second half of the film real people from the first half appear as characters in the fictional story. As in all of Gomes’ films, there are some wonderful comic moments, such as an overheard exchange between two villagers who both have a role in the film. Songs and radios programmes which appear in the documentary section, become part of the narrative in the main story. The lyrics of the pop songs reflect what is happening in the lives of the on-screen characters. The title of the film is bitter-sweet when we understand the lyrics of the eponymous song ‘Meu Querido Mês de Agosto‘: “Meu querido mês de agosto / Por ti levo o ano inteiro a sonhar / Trago sorrisos no rosto … / Porque sei que vou voltar” (“My beloved month of August / I dream of you throughout the year / I’ve got a smile on my face … / Because I know I’ll return”). Many of the villagers have left their villages to find work in the city or abroad, such as Hélder’s family who are living in France. For many migrant Portuguese the month of August is when they return to their villages and it suggests that for them the rural idyll suggested in the documentary part of the film is another fiction.

The film deservedly won Miguel Gomes several international awards, including best film and best screenplay. This is an evocative, charming film that stayed with me for a long time after it finished.