Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar is a touching tale of paternal love afloat upon the drifting Mexican sea.
Old Man of the Sea by Laura Bennett
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
Pedro González-Rubio’s first feature length film, Alamar, gently drifts across an ocean of familial relationships. Described by the director as a “hybrid between documentary and fiction”, Alamar focuses on the experiences of a young boy, Natan. The son of a patriotic Italian mother and a free-spirited Mexican father, Natan’s place in the world is still unclear.
His mother’s voice narrates the opening sequences. As his father, Jorge, is taken on a moonlit tour of the Eternal City, it is clear he will never be more than a stuttering tourist in Rome. Interspersed with stills of Natan’s mother holidaying on a Mexican beach, it seems she is a fish out of water there as well, “unhappy in each other’s realities”.
As Natan gets ever closer to an age when education will force him towards one country or the other, his father has come to take him on one last Mexican odyssey before he returns to forge the path of his life in the bel paese. Jorge and Natan set out on a seemingly endless journey to the crystalline Mexican coast. A place where sky and sun meet sea; where life is simple and fishermen live hand to mouth on nature’s bounty, at one with their habitat.
Initially as out of his depth as his mother, Natan is blighted by seasickness on his first marine journey; the audience is drawn in by the gentle rocking motion of the camera mimicking the choppy waves. His experience becomes a slowly evolving learning curve as his knowledgeable father teaches him sea shanties, snorkelling skills and fish scaling techniques. Accompanied only by Jorge’s own father, Matraca, the three generations form a strong bond as they make repairs to their fisherman’s hut, take to the sea each day, and clean and sell the day’s catch on their return.
Natan’s time with his father in Mexico is apparently uncomplicated, but as they run barefoot across the beach danger lurks. The hut’s resident crocodile dwells below in the hope of catching stray fish scraps, ready to snap Natan away from all of this, as his mother’s arms wait to whisk him back to classical civilization.
During his stay by the water, Natan makes friends with an ibis, the white Blanquita, like him a fleeting visitor from afar, about to take flight at any moment. Before leaving Natan releases a message in a bottle with a flower and a note – he wishes it either to Italy or Mexico, floating this way and that over the high seas as he himself will also.
Described by its director as having been “inspired by the simplicity of happiness”, Alamar is an artistic, beautiful and elemental film. With the screen bisected by the deep blues and greens of the hazy sky and shimmering sea, the audience is taken on a journey into the natural world, feeling its power as the characters themselves do. The seascape is minimalist, the flow and pace of the narrative is slow, and plot and dialogue are kept to a minimum. Underwater scenes are sound free, silent except for the odd bubble or lapping of the waves. The strength and constancy of the sea is greater than those who inhabit it.
Filmed close to the director’s home, the teeming Banco Chinchorro coral reef is the setting for Alamar. Declared in 1996 as a Natural Reserve of the Biosphere by UNESCO, González-Rubio intends that his film should lend his weight to the campaign to have this delicate ecosystem declared a World Heritage site. Having seen the purity of the nearby Playa del Carmen destroyed, the former fisherman’s village has now become an overly developed tourist sprawl, in Alamar González-Rubio examines the current relationship between man and his habitat in Chinchorro, hoping to save it from a similar fate.
Simply and cheaply made, with a crew of just two including the director himself, Alamar is an uncomplicated delight. Slow to reveal its beauty, excitement and plot twists are few and far between. Alamar’s rewards are in the empathy triggered by the director’s visual images and the depths of the emotions he explores.
Alamar is released in the UK on September 10th 2010