Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: "Alamar"

The title of Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio's quiet, lovely Mexican drama, Alamar, is Spanish for "To the Sea," but "sea" in context here could just as easily mean "home." Alamar is a film about the inexorable bond between a father and a son, transcending time and distance, even when separated by an entire ocean. Home, in this instance, not necessarily referring to a specific place, but defining relationship - family.

The father and son in question are Jorge and Natan. Natan is the product of Jorge's whirlwind romance with Roberta, a pairing Jorge admits early on thats seemed to exist for the sole purpose of bringing Natan into the world. Soon the romance dissolves, Jorge and Robert are from two different worlds - Jorge is a Mexican fisherman used to a simple islander's lifestyle, and Roberta is Italian, much more suited to big city life. Roberta decides to take Natan with her to Italy, but before they go, Jorge decides to take him on one last trip together, fishing and exploring their roots together as Jorge leaves one last lasting impression on Natan before he moves half a world away.

There isn't much in the way of a plot to be discussed here. Alamar is a film of emotions and small moments rather than that follows a traditional storytelling formula. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and style of neo-realism, presenting its subjects' lives in an almost documentary-like fashion. The film is made up of a series of moments, snippets of everyday life that add up to a surprisingly emotional whole. Not much happens here, Jorge and Natan go fishing, Natan befriends an egret, Natan learns how to scale a fish, but it is the little moments such as these that make up a life, and by the end of Alamar, Gonzalez-Rubio has pulled something of an emotional hat trick. He has absorbed the audience so thoroughly into the rhythms and textures of his characters' lives, and the ebbs and flows of their relationships, and he does so with very few words.

It's a truly disarming effect, and its one of the things that makes the film so haunting. Alamar is a film that is easy to respect in the moment, but it's even easier to love in hindsight, because it isn't until its over that its true emotional impact becomes apparent. By just letting the characters be, to inhabit and grow in a wholly lived in and believable world, Gonzalez-Rubio creates an organic flow that makes the inevitable separation of father and son that much more poignant.

It is astonishing that this is only Gonzalez-Rubio's first film. His direction is so assured that it feels like the work of a much more seasoned filmmaker. His attention to detail, to the flexing of a muscle to the scrape of a blade across fish scales, adds such depth to the world he creates. It is a fully realized film from start to finish, filled with some truly breathtaking imagery. Gonzalez-Rubio finds such beauty in such unexpected places, consistently surprising and moving us.

Life is in the details, and such is the beauty of Alamar. There are no deep revelations here, no profound proclamations of familial love, and that is its great statement of love. The bond between Jorge and Natal needs few words, their love is seen simply through the simple moments of life few other directors would even think to show. Sometimes less really is more, and in this case the silence speaks volumes. Alamar is a small wonder of a film, a beautiful and bittersweet ode to the love shared by a father and son that resonates in powerful and unexpected ways.

GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)

ALAMAR; Directed by Pedro González-Rubio; Stars Jorge Machado, Roberta Palombini, Natan Machado Palombini, Néstor Marín “Matraca”; Not rated; In Spanish w/English subtitles; Now playing at the Film Forum in NYC.

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