November 11, 2010

The Beauty of the Everyday

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Life is easy when all you do is float. Wake up, have a nice strong cup of coffee, no sugar, walk out of your sandy stilt shack, hop into your skiff, put on your snorkel, locate shy lobsters hiding in coral crevices, crack, cook and eat them. Take a nap, drink more coffee, go for round two. Fish must be eaten, and there are always more of them; if your daily routine does not revolve around subsisting on fish, well, my friend, something is missing.

It is precisely this peaceful sort of lifestyle that brings together a dark skinned, longhaired young boy named Natan with his larger than life father, Jorge, in director Pedro-Gonzalez Rubio’s film, Alamar. This quasi-documentary captures the short yet sweet moments of joy that Natan and his father share together, fishing and exploring the sea.

The circumstance of their visit is not altogether clear. Natan lives permanently with his mother in Rome, and is visiting a part of her past. The movie begins with his mother’s voice, which does not emerge again until the end, explaining the chance that brought Natan into the world. She spent a year and a half with Jorge on the beaches and in the jungles of Mexico before returning with her son to the real world of Italy. The details of this episode are purposely left unclear. Perhaps she was a traveler who fell in love too quickly, and wound up with the child of a local Mayan man.

Whatever the nature of his birth and separation from Jorge, the important thing is that the two are now acquainted, and learning from each other. Natan arrives in Mexico and the two set off “a la mar” — to the sea. They arrive in a tiny neighborhood of shacks that are built on stilts around sandbar that appears to be miles from land. They set up shop, paint their new surroundings to their liking, and begin the routine that occupies them throughout the rest of the film.

Jorge does not appear to be a seasoned fisherman. Instead, he defers expertise to Néstor, a sun beat old man with a mouth full of teeth and proverbial offering. His mantra is “he who lives by the sea is happy.” For Jorge and Natan, Néstor has knowledge of the best angles to shoot fish, which bait to use and how to make spicy fish stew. While Néstor provides the experience of a man with years at sea, it is Jorge’s job to introduce Natan to the unfamiliar world around him. He teaches him to use the snorkel, court the friendship of seagulls and scale fish.

Alamar is more of a visual spectacle than a plot driven movie. There is little dialogue, no plot, and yet the viewer witnesses a glimpse of a distant yet real life: A father connecting with his son in a beautiful natural environment. Despite their unfamiliarity, Natan and Jorge have no trouble becoming friends and making the best of their idyllic lifestyle. The movie illustrates a world where the only pressing issue is deciding which fish to eat and dictates a pace as slow as the one maintained by the characters.

The film brought director Rubio and his crew to Banco Chincorro, a coral reserve off of southeast Mexico, and required that they immerse themselves in the fisherman’s lifestyle. Like Natan and Jorge, the crew spent days filming and fishing, acquainting their senses to the environment to provide the best possible snapshot. In addition to direction, Rubio helped film and edit the picture, a process that brings him into conflict with himself. Said Rubio in an interview, “It’s me as a photographer, as a cameraman and me as an editor. Its two different people, almost, two different Pedro’s. Sometimes as editor I get mad at me as a cameraman.”

Rubio describes Alamar as a very “organic film.” Indeed, it is a film where the viewer feels as if they are fishing alongside Natan and Jorge, one in which you can feel that the filmmaker understands the pace and tone of the characters’ life and relationship.

Original Author: Joey Anderson