Dir: Gregorio Graziosi. Brazil. 2022. 106mins
Olga (2021) and Slalom (2020) are among a crop of recent films to confront the pressures on elite athletes. Gregorio Graziosi uses the travails of an ambitious synchronised diver as the backdrop to Tinnitus, a visually striking fusion of body horror and gaillo-like psychological thriller. The aesthetic remains potent throughout, even when the plotting becomes cluttered and contrived. There is still enough intrigue and a sense of foreboding to capture the attention of further festivals, following berths at Karlovy Vary and Cairo.
The subject and Sao Paulo setting gives cinematographer Rui Pocas (Tabu) plenty of sources of inspiration
The latest film from Obra (2014) director Graziosi, who played in Locarno competition with his 2009 short Mira, is set in the world of competitive synchronised diving. Marina (Jean de Verona) and her diving partner Luisa (Indira Nascimento) are considered Olympic medal hopefuls for Brazil. When Marina suffers a sudden attack of tinnitus, she is no longer able to compete. “ It’s like a cricket inside my ear, “ she explains.
The film’s sound mix allows the viewer to experience the tinnitus as the equivalent of a permanent droning buzz from a radio frequency broadcast directly into your head. The sense of something scraping behind a wall, the scratching of little creatures, the whirring of fans behind air vents all contribute to our experience of the affliction. Graziosi also ensures that we know some of the hazards and dangers of diving at anything less than full strength and focus. There are archive photos of injuries suffered by divers who have struck a board or grazed the edge of a pool.
As the film progresses, Marina finds a job as an underwater mermaid in an aquarium, attends tinnitus support groups – one led by her boyfriend Dr Antonio Dos Santos (Andre Guerreiro Lopes) – and tries to move on in her sport with a promising new diving partner, Teresa (Alli Willow). Marina’s desire to return to competition never fades, bordering on obsession. Graziosi strays into Cronenberg territory with the feeling that a frustrated Marina is at war with her own body. If she could just extract something from her ear or destroy it, then all her troubles could be silenced.
The subject and Sao Paulo setting of Tinnitus gives cinematographer Rui Pocas (Tabu) plenty of sources of inspiration. He captures a vivid sense of the straight lines, skyscrapers and architecture of the city, the concertina of staircases leading to the top diving board, the lofty view it affords over the vast space of the city’s Olympic pool. Pocas’s use of colour suggests the Hitchcock of Vertigo – and wouldn’t the master of suspense have loved Tinnitus as a title? The film is drenched in vibrant colour from the lime green of the shimmering pool waters to the fiery tangerine skies that accompany a series of dives and the blood red glow in some of the rooms.
Graziosi and his co-writers Marco Dutra and Andres Vera tend to overcomplicate matters, as if they felt that Marina’s torment isn’t enough in itself to sustain the narrative. The way flirty, wide-eyed Teresa tries to insinuate herself into Marina’s life threatens to tip the film towards Swimfan potboiler territory. Her attempts to poison the relationship between Marina and Luisa, and to destabilise Marina’s faltering commitment to Antonio, are never entirely convincing. Luisa comes across as bitter and sulky, whilst Antonio is left drifting in and out of a story that doesn’t seem to entirely know what to do with him.
The swirl of sex, jealousy and betrayal is a distraction rather than something that deepens the story or its emotional impact. The more interesting element remains Marina’s response to a body that she considers to be failing her and her absolute determination to return to diving regardless of the consequences. That provides the real substance of a film that is never less than visually stylish.
Production company: Cinematografica Superfilmes
International sales: Loco Films [email protected]
Producer: Zita Carvalhosa
Screenplay: Marco Dutra, Gregorio Graziosi, Andres Vera
Cinematography: Rui Pocas
Production design: Carol Ozzi
Editing: Eduardo Serrano
Music: David Boulter
Main cast: Jean de Verona, Indira Nascimento, Alli WIllow, Andre Guerreiro Lopes