By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 4, 2010)
It’s not time to make a change
Just relax, take it easy
You’re still young, that’s your fault
There’s so much you have to know
–Cat Stevens, from “Father and Son”
To say that “nothing happens” in Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s leisurely paced cinematic tone-poem, Alamar, set against the backdrop of Mexico’s intoxicating Banco Chinchorro, is to deny that the rhythm of life has a pulse. That is because, analogous to the complex and delicate eco-system that sustains the reef, there is more going on just beneath the surface of Rubio’s sparse story than meets the eye.
Granted, the narrative is simple. A Mexican man named Jorge (Jorge Machado) has been separated from his Italian-born wife, Roberta (Roberta Palombini) for several years. The couple has a five-year-old son named Natan (Natan Machado Palombini). Roberta has decided to leave Mexico and move to Rome, taking Natan with her. Before he says goodbye to his son, Jorge wants to bond with him by taking him on a special trip to the place he grew up-the Chinchorro Reef (on Mexico’s Caribbean coast) where the pair are greeted by Jorge’s mentor Nestor (Nestor Marin), a leathery, weathered elder fisherman (with a requisite twinkle in his eye) who seems to have strolled straight out of a Hemingway tale.
Over the next several weeks, young Natan (and the astute viewer) is given a crash-course in becoming one with nature and living completely in the “now”. It actually doesn’t feel like a “crash course”, because the message is subtly delivered through a a series of episodic, Zen-like vignettes.
Young Natan waits quietly in the boat, contemplating sea birds circling overhead, while his father and Nestor spearfish for lobster on the reef’s bed. Jorge teaches Natan how to hand-cast lines to catch snapper and barracuda. Father and son wrestle playfully; their joyful giggles are infectious and speak volumes about the genuine bond between them. Jorge and Natan hand-feed an egret, a scene-stealing sea bird (whom they nickname “Blanquita”) that decides to adopt the fishermen for a spell.
I am sure there will be viewers who will find the film too “slow” and uneventful, but that’s OK. If you can’t wait for it to end so you can turn your phone back on and check all those “important” messages, I suspect that the film’s message, telegraphed in the sunlit shimmer of a crystalline coral reef, or in the light of love on a father’s face as he watches his son slowly drift off to sleep, is destined to never get through to you anyway.
And what is the message? Perhaps it is best summed up by Nestor, relaxing with a cup of coffee after another day of fishing, who says, “It’s beautiful here at sea. That’s why I’m sitting here, watching the night. It’s as simple as that. I sit here alone and drink my coffee, watching for a while and then off to sleep.”
Alamar is a beautiful film. It’s as simple as that.