Alamar: A boy, his old man and the sea

Liam Lacey of Canada’s Globe and Mail reviews Alamar.

If nothing else, Alamar is the cheapest 73-minute Caribbean vacation you’re likely to find near the end of February. This beautiful little documentary-fictional hybrid film, written, directed, edited and shot by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, tells the story of a father and son who bond over the course of a summer, fishing, boating and swimming in azure waters, sleeping in hammocks and living on an island hut on Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro reef, just off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

All the people in the film are essentially being themselves, though the filmmaker did create situations for them, and has shaped it, through editing, into a fable about passing on a love of nature from generation to generation. Natan (Natan Machado Palombini) is the beautiful five-year-old son of an Italian mother (Roberta Palombini) and a wiry, long-haired Mayan-Mexican tour guide (Jorge Machado), who separated after a brief relationship. “Sometimes I think God made us meet so that Natan could be born,” says his mother.

Once in Mexico, the father and son set off in a boat to an island in the Chinchorro reef. The boy is seasick during the crossing but soon he’s settled into a shack, sleeping in a hammock and sharing space with a grandfatherly older fisherman, Matraca (Nestor Marin).

Over the summer, Jorge teaches Natan to reel in fish, to identify sea creatures and plants. Natan learns to snorkel, and watches his father and Matraca catch lobsters and barracudas, and to throw scraps to a crocodile that snaps up leftovers like a family dog. Along the way, the boy befriends a white cattle egret which they name Blanquita. The bird becomes quasi-domesticated, walking into their hut, standing on their arms to snap bugs from their fingers. Then suddenly, inexplicably, it disappears. The bird’s departure presages Natan’s own journey back to civilization and home in Italy.

In its simple portrait of three generations of men, living from the sea, Alamar has two agendas. The first one is in the final title cards, which announce that there is a movement to have Banco Chinchorro, the world’s second-largest coral reef, recognized as a protected World Heritage Site.

More subtly, it’s an old-fashioned celebration of paternity and the world of men – work, hunting, friendship and, to a small degree, dealing with violence. The boy learns not only to hunt but to play-wrestle with his father. When Natan accidentally gets hurt, the father checks if the boy is okay, then ends with a playful mock head-butt. At one point, Jorge lets his son touch the teeth of the barracuda they are about to eat for dinner.

What Gonzalez-Rubio brings to this non-narrative adventure is a quality that can probably be best described as holy. Every act, from cleaning a boat’s hull to preparing a fish stew, is a stage in Natan’s ritual transformation into self-sufficiency and manhood. At the end, Jorge promises Natan that he will always be watching out for him – it echoes Natan’s mother’s suggestion at the beginning of the film that God must have planned Natan’s birth.

In a more earthly sense, Jorge has given his son a set of psychological survival skills to face whatever future crocodiles and barracudas he may meet on the streets of Rome.

Alamar

  • Written and directed by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio
  • Starring Jorge Machado, Natan Machado Palombini, Roberta Palombini and Nestor Marin
  • Classification: G

For the original report go to http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/alamar-a-boy-his-old-man-and-the-sea/article1920633/

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