A slow-burn that shows us connections between what’s real



Not quite a docudrama (there's little drama here) and not quite a documentary, this personal travelogue of sorts is a lovely and gorgeously wide-shot exercise in subtle activism, immersing the viewer in an idyllic world, as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

Natan is the unquestionably beautiful son of Italian mother Roberta Palombini and Mayan father Jorge Machado. From the couple's opening voiceover we learn that their relationship ended because they lived in two very different worlds. It's the only part of Pedro González-Rubio's film that relies on words to tell its story. From there we watch as city-dwelling Roberta prepares her son for a summer with Jorge, a fisherman who lives in a small hut on stilts in the Banco Chinchorro, an immense coral reef off the Mexican coast.

Subtly fictionalized by González-Rubio (you'd be hard-pressed to figure out how), Alamar is a gentle, unhurried and observant examination of love, separation and the bonds between man and nature, and father and son. It captures the immediacy of living simply, outside the conveniences of the modern world, while presenting a life that's quickly disappearing. 

It's also the kind of film best suited to patient audiences. For general moviegoers, Alamar would be the equivalent of watching beautiful paint dry on a wall. For cinephiles, however, its rewards are quiet and commanding.

González-Rubio claims that he eschewed a true documentary approach to allow him to shape the narrative and re-create situations to suit his film. He does this with an invisible hand, however, depicting father and son fishing, boating, snorkeling and bonding with a naturalness that never betrays what is real and what is contrived. The relationship between Natan and Jorge is intimate and authentic, at first tentative but, before long, undeniably profound. Even Natan's "grandfather" (played by Nestór Marín, a reef local) seems unimpeachably real.

There is no family conflict or emotional turmoil, only the steady and increasingly loving interactions between father and son, as well as the peaceful rhythms of living on the sea. In fact, there is little conversation. The wind, water and creak of the hut offer the only soundtrack (save for a sing-along with the radio) to the peaceful bubble of life to which Jorge introduces his son. That we are invited to watch is a minor blessing.

As a tribute to simple living, Alamar is incredibly seductive, offering a view of life that seems paradoxically rich and abundant. Whether it's Jorge's never-ending enthusiasm and curiosity, or the unexpected friendship of a brave little egret (they name her Blanquita), González-Rubio's semi-documentary revels in its surroundings, reminding us that there are connections more profound than Facebook and text messages. 

Alamar challenges the virtues of "progress" and makes clear that the link between man and nature is as profound as the ties that bind children to their parents. It speaks volumes about where we're headed as a race that we too frequently neglect both.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237) at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 17-18, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19. It also shows at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1-2 and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3.

Jeff Meyers is a film critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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