Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ****
Sometimes there's nothing quite as welcome as a movie that provides a headspace so roomy and tranquil you can hear yourself think - not in an intellectual or analytical way, but in a Zen way, establishing a kind of spiritual rapport with a story that goes much deeper than the surface. One of the past year's more unique and heartfelt sleepers, Alamar is so focused and elemental in what it wants to do that, for its slight but meaningful 73 minutes, a viewer can be totally enveloped in its perfect little world.
Director Pedro González-Rubio works in a hybrid overlap between fictional drama and documentary, shooting in the waters off the Banco Chinchorro in the Caribbean, a diver's paradise at the Southern tip of Mexico. Unlike the work of cinematic anthropolgists like Ulrich Seidl or Pedro Costa, whose direction of workshop-scripted non-actors in specific settings tends to emphasize sociological themes ripe-to-bursting with subtext, González-Rubio turns his HD video lens away from the ills of urban life, capitalism, and globalization and gets back to nature. Alamar's edenic waterworld is lent gravity through its touching premise: Natan (Natan Machado Palombini), the child of a Mexican fisherman of strong Mayan heritage and an Italian mother, comes to visit his father (Jorge Machado) for a few weeks in the summer - before returning to his mother half a world away.
The scenario is established briefly and poetically in a few opening minutes, and then the rest of the movie is the man and the boy going about daily life on the water. Aside from the poignant tone of reunion and inevitable separation, there's never the intrusion of what you might call “surplus drama.” The scenes really are what they are: tender observations of a man, too rooted in his sense of place to be anywhere else, engaged very soulfully in giving his young child a sense of where he comes from, so that one day he will remember. The camera's quiet, verite gaze takes in everything with a measured beat.
The film's central stretch involves the capture and preparation of some barracuda, which becomes a dinner enjoyed in a rough hewn shack that sits on stilts above the water. With scraps, the father and son lure a friendly egret and, in a tightly framed passage, the kid tries, not so successfully, to get the bird to walk onto his hand. The egret, which they name Blanquita, steals the scene, underscoring the film's essential concept of bonding and the sustaining truths of the natural world. Yes, it's a Flipper moment, surely the stuff of a million beach vacations in a million childhood, but here once more, in this particular time and place, with this particular father and son, it's something new all over again.
The balance between the unique and the universal gives the film much of its appeal, as does the uncontrived charisma of Machados junior and senior, and the older fisherman who plays an avuncular role. The sheer aquatic splendor that lights up the frame in endless flashes of crystalline blue would be enough to keep Alamar on 24/7 repeat mode on the Travel Channel, especially during the snowbound months. But its passionate immersion in what for many of us cubicle-dwelling urbanoids is a parallel universe makes t more indelible, once the postcard vistas fade in the mind's eye.
The Film Movement DVD also includes, as is typical for them, a short film --Take It Easy by César Díaz Meléndez, a lovely, and very short, hand-made sand-animated piece, definitely worth a watch.
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