Pedro González-Rubio’s “Alamar”-A photo-slide show of romantic scenes between Roberta (Roberta Palombini) and Mexican tour guide Jorge (Jorge Machado) celebrate their sensuous incompatible relationship of opposites. Roberta’s narration celebrates their dissolved marriage but, as she says “I’m unhappy in your reality, as you are in mine.”
Roberta has decided to move back to Rome and sends their five year old son, Natan, on a last visit his grandfather’s palafitte, a fishing shack set on stilts in the crystalline waters of Banco Chinchorro, off the Yucatan Peninsula. (Quintana Roo, the world’s second-largest coral reef is an intact eco-system.)
Roberta wakes sleepy Natan in their apartment, packing him up, as the two chatter in Italian. Joining his charismatic bare chested dad, Natan switches to Spanish, a home in both languages. Jorge and Natan ride through the jungle towards grandfather’s fishing community. Natan has to adjust. He’s seasick on board and wary of work. After all, “they don’t fish” in Rome, because “the fish are already in the store.” Bit by bit, the two older man initiate Natan in his heritage, teaching patience and respect for Nature’s gifts. Their time together takes on the simple joys of a trip to Neverneverland. The visuals and rhythms of the seaside oasis are irresistible. In Pedro González-Rubio rapturous ode to fatherhood, hard work and the natural life.
First, all three cut a window to the sea and paint the inside of the house a sunny yellow. Jorge and gramps Matraca (Nestor Marin) snorkel and spear fish. Young Natan waits in the boat above, studying the sky and soaking in a fisherman’s skills. Matraca perfects Jorge’s hand fishing technique. They clean the fish (barracuda, crabs and sturgeon). Whatever they don’t sell goes into their pot of fish stews.
Jorge, whose seen the tourist centers, and travelled the world, chooses this Edenic homeland and wants to make his young son at home. This is last chance, for who knows how long ,to share their Mayan heritage, their practical traditions or “linaje.” Young Jorge is an active, playful father who knows the taxonomic names for plants and animals, and which plants can do what. How tender the men are with each other. Never an unkind word, just the pleasure of good time spent together. Matraca teaches by coaxing. “Fishing is about luck and patience.” he explains to Jorge, or is he giving sly advice to the director?
The love between the three generations is evident. (Roberta Jorge and Natan play themeselves, grandfather is played by a local fisherman who Jorge and the director bonded with when they were location scouting. All the performances are utterly relaxed. He gave them daily “tasks” to perform as themselves, running the handheld camera till he got what he needed. Only Jorge was self-conscious or aware of his image, explained González-Rubio at a Q & A. The edge between doc and fiction evaded under González-Rubio’s subtle watch.
They wash the boat, literally sanding it, foot and hand polishing clean with beach sand, as Natan carries pails of water. When a lurking caiman crocodile swims in, GRAMPS? alerts him to watch out. He dashes onshore.
(I was thinking about American parent with young kids on “leashes” and tagged with GPS systems.)
Almost wordlessly, the three savor the summer. They watch the night sky, the sunrise and sunsets. They fed the seagulls as turtles and crabs scuttle pass them. Respectful sound work by Manuel Carranza capture the tranquility; every plash of the surf, the sound of the night tide, the primal noises of snorkeling under the sea. Their dreamy endless days of waking, fishing, eating speak to us about the remaining pockets of the natural world we are charged to protect
One day, a cattle egret wanders onto their deck. Quiet Jorge (and Natan) tame the water bird, who is on a migration from Africa. Deftly, like a magician, Jorge coaxes the wary egret into Natan’s arm. They hand feed it bugs from the house. Naming the leggy elegant bird Blanquita, they expect her visits. When she disappears, they search for her. Climbing WHAT the two peer over Jorge’s waterside jungle domain, and muse about Natan’s departure. It’s a poetic moment, unburdened by melodrama, but conscious of endings, of a separation of father and son and homeland, and of a fragile age-old lifestyle threatened by globalized urbanization and tourism.
In interviews González-Rubio describes the cattle egret as a creature who forced herself in them. What a miracle of film making, a simple joy that recalls equally fortuitous moments in early silent or sound films.
It’s a wonder how González-Rubio’s camera disappears as he lives with the trio on the Palafitte and small boat. In one rainy day scene, as Gramps eats in the background, Natan draws a catalogue of things he’s seen on his stay, Including ‘the camera” he explains looking at González-Rubio’s behind the camera. It makes sense, we accept it. Then Natan and Jorge send it into the sea in a bottle. “Will it wash ashore in Italy or Mexico?” asks Natan, discovering a metaphor for his young life.
A closing scene, with Natan and Roberta on a bench in Rome, show a loved boy, involved and content in his Roman present. The shot of Rome spread out behind them in an urban tangle speaks volumes about the fragile Eden he left behind.
DP Alexis Zabé (“Lake Tahoe”, “Silent Light”) contributes a second underwater camera for the snorkeling scenes. Pedro González-Rubio (“Toro Negro” )shot Eva Norvind’s “Born Without,”
Robert Koehler of Cinemascope celebrates the film as an example of “the cinema of in-between-ness.” Like the ‘narrative’ films of of Pedro Costa, Albert Serra, Michael Winterbottom’s “In This World” and C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s “The Anchorage” or the ‘documentaries’ of Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread”), Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’ s “Sweetgrass”, or Eugenio Polgovsky’s “Los Herederos “, the subtle manipulated or merged ‘non-fiction’ “permits all manners of wild possibilities” while documenting the end of cyclical rural work cultures.
“Inspired by the simplicity of happiness,” Pedro González-Rubio’s film which ravishes us with its simplicity and visual splendor, is a penultimate film of Mexico’s emerging film renaissance.