Dir/scr: Kirill Mikhanovsky. Braz-Russ-US.2006. 105mins.

Russian-born Kirill Mikhanovsky makes a promising debut with Fish Dreams, which may be set in an impoverishedfishing village in Brazil but is heavily indebted to Italian neo-realism in itsreliance on non-professional actors and real locations. More specifically it recallsVisconti's masterpiece La Terra Trema (1948) in much of itsminimalist plot and basic situation.

Mikhanovsky poetically manipulates image and sound like awell-seasoned master, but some will find the work a little light on forwardnarrative movement, especially toward the end. Commercial prospects for thisextremely modest but well-executed film may be slight, but festival programmerslooking for something unrushed and quietly intuitive should give it seriousconsideration. Fish Dreams played inCritics' Week at Cannes.

The film centres around Jusce (Alves), a poor youngfisherman who is in love with Ana (Rafaelle), anequally impoverished young woman who lives in a crowded shack with her mother,her brothers and sisters and her illegitimate child.

Jusce's friend Rogerio (Haagensen), unlike Jusce, refusesto submit to the dangerous demands of diving 30 metres for lobster withinadequate equipment and instead makes a living giving rides to foreigntourists in his dune buggy. Ana dreams of going away and living a fuller lifeelsewhere and is thus naturally attracted to the flashy Rogerio;Jusce, at a disadvantage in this amorous rivalry,goes all out to win her over.

Much of the running time isdevoted to the documentation of daily life in the village, but Fish Dreams never feels like a factualwork since so much of the village's reality is caught in fleeting bits andpieces. This effect is also partly due to the expert manner in which director Mikhanovsky handles both sound and silence, whichintertwine provocatively and poetically throughout.

One great attraction thatthe film also holds is the naturalness of the two leads: RubiaRafaelle, as Ana, is far from a conventional moviebeauty and all the more convincing for it.

The plot is so bare-bonesthat it almost resembles a fable rather than a fully fleshed-out story. Avoiceover periodically doles out only the most absolutely necessary narrativeexposition in an anonymous way that gives the drama a strong collectiveorientation, obviously one of the director's goals.

Much is also expressed intiny visual details, such as when the camera catches Juscemomentarily smelling Ana's hair while the whole extended family, lined upagainst a wall, watches television. Overall, the pacing is quite slow, andwhile it's completely appropriate to the spirit of the film, not all viewerswill remain equally entranced.

Like Antoniin La Terra Trema,Jusce is eventually cheated by greedy middlemen andhis desire for a normal life similarly leads him to become dangerouslyimprudent. But for those with the patience to stick with it, this little gem ofa film simultaneously updates Visconti's 60-year oldstory and makes the audience realise that, in some corners of the world,nothing has changed at all.

Production company
Unison Films

International sales
Surreal Films

Emanuel Michael
Jacob Michelson-Shamelashivili
Fernanda De Capua
Eliane Ferreira
Matias Mariani
Dario Bergesio

Andrij Parekh

Adam Walsh
KD Klippning

Production design
Monica Palazzo

Artur Andres Ribeiro

Main cast
Jose Maria Alves
Rubia Rafaelle
Phellipe Haagensen

Chico Diaz
Yves Hofer