Opening today at the Film Forum in New York, Alamar, a documentary directed by Pedro González-Rubio, deals with some of the most basic relationships in existence–between father and son, and between human beings and nature. It is also an implicit call for preserving the stunningly beautiful region of Banco Chinchorro, an Eden-like home near Belize to thousands of different species and the largest coral reef in Mexico, now threatened by tourism and urbanization according to the press notes. Since much of the film’s action takes place in the waters off the east coast of Mexico, one viewing it cannot help but be reminded of the impact that the BP oil spill is having on another natural wonder to the north.
The film begins with a brief introduction to a foundering marriage between Jorge Machado, a Mexican fisherman, and Roberta Palombini, an Italian with a preference for urban life as she openly admits. Just before she returns to Rome with their five year old son Natan, she agrees to let Natan join his father on a trip to Banco Chinchorro where he will see how his father makes his living alongside an older man named Néstor Marín, nicknamed Matraca (rattle).
Jorge and Matraca introduce Natan to life on the waters, starting with the shanty-like dwelling on stilts that they share on an inlet. They own few possessions except for a motor boat, fishing tackle, some hammocks, a few other pieces of furniture, and some pots and pans. Without a single word of commentary, the movie makes a powerful point about our kinship with nature. The movie had a particular resonance for me since the only time I was ever to bond with my own father was when we were fishing in the lakes and ponds of Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains. The loss of marine life due to unregulated commercial development in this area saddened me not just for what it meant for nature, but also for the loss of the one connection I had to my father.
Oddly enough, the movie reminded me very much of Arctic Son, another movie about the clash between nature and “civilization” focused on a father and son relationship now available from Netflix, in that case a Gwinchin Indian from northern Canada and his son who lived with his mother in Seattle, where he was losing track of his native heritage and abusing drugs and alcohol. He goes to live with his father who teaches him how to hunt and fish and see nature from a native’s perspective.
While this film would be compelling on visual terms alone, as we see the three main characters at work in the crystalline-blue waters, it is much more about unalienated human relationships. Indeed, it is difficult to refer to their activities as work since millions of people pay a small fortune each year to go spear-fishing in the same waters. You obviously begin to think about the nature of work from watching the film and wonder how much mankind has gained from “evolving beyond” the village-based economies of the pre-Conquest era.
Director González-Rubio was fortunate to happen on the three males who are just perfect on camera. Jorge Machado is a striking presence with shoulder-length hair and a feline grace, bearing a striking resemblance to the late Bob Marley. Matraca is a grizzled, gray-haired man with a sweet smile and a lively sense of humor. Natan completes the group, about the most relaxed and amiable five year old I have ever seen on or off camera.
This is an exceptional movie that will linger in your memory for a long time after you see it. Highly recommended.