(Dir. Pedro González-Rubio, Mexico, 2009)
Old and Young Men and the Sea
In the vein of the greats Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, filmmaker Pedro González-Rubio crafts an unexpectedly captivating documentary-fiction hybrid that weds the realistic humanism of the former Iranian master with the harmonious blending of human and nature of Terrence Malick. With Alamar, González-Rubio pares down the philosophical ponderings of Malick in favor of basking in the glorious vistas that he and DP Alexis Zabe capture. In terms of scope, then, the implications of González-Rubio’s film are less paramount than say The Thin Red Line or The New World, but the father-son relationship at its center leads it straight to the heart. And, in terms of style González-Rubio owes very little to Kiarostami or Malick, thus Alamar is a beautifully unique portrait of tender familial bonds and humankind’s relation to nature – in this case, the sea.
The film follows the real-life couple of Mexican fisherman Jorge and Italian Roberta who fall in love in Mexico, give birth to their son Natan, then split while their child’s still young. González-Rubio covers this portion of the family’s story in a prelude of sorts through home videos playing in tight frame while the ex-lovers narrate. This unique introduction to our characters gives the film immediate grounding in the real world, and the fact that these three are non-actors and real family members only leads to the story’s resonance. González-Rubio’s narrative jumps ahead to a post-separation Roberta and a five-year-old Natan, and the frame has switched from home video recording quality to a sharp, stylish HD. The mother gently wakes up her son informing him that his father will be by shortly.
In no time at all, Jorge arrives, sweeps Natan up, and carries him far from civilization and shore to the Banco Chinchorro reef off the coast of southern Mexico. González-Rubio carefully documents every step of their journey, both highlighting the great distance the pair travels from the urban world to their Eden in the middle of the ocean and keeping his audience in the dark as to where they’re headed and why. All the while his camera encourages us to simply take in the natural beauty that nearly consumes us as the camera fearlessly plunges into the water and locks on to every moving body as it jumps from dock to boat in front of the frame.
There isn’t much by way of plot to drive Alamar along, but the strengthening bond between father and son – both Jorge and Natan prove to be compelling subjects – and the arresting visuals González-Rubio captures are enough to keep viewers enthralled for its brief hour and fifteen minute runtime. Nothing is force-fed in González-Rubio’s film; it’s bittersweet as Jorge and Natan interact as both know that their time together is fleeting, but there’s no underlying moral contrivance or overt disapproval of the former couple’s decision. Likewise, there’s a gentle environmental message bubbling under the narrative’s surface, but it never erupts into ham-fisted proselytizing. Instead the film is a quiet meditation on the most basic of human relationships: parent to child and humankind to its environment. The result is one simple, yet not naïve, beautiful film from a newer talent who’s bold enough to challenge the conventions of popular and art house cinema.