September 20, 2010


Alamar opens with two voices, it closes with a city. What fills the time in between is the dignity of cliche. Alamar is about a situation. A young man and woman meet abroad, they fall in love, marry, have a child and then fall out of love. He wishes to stay in his rural idyll. She wishes to return to her city. The child spends time with both his urban mother and his rural father. Alamar focusses upon the father. We see young Natan the son have a shower and pull on his t shirt and swiftly he heads out from Rome, where his mother lives, to the coast of Mexico where his father lives. What he finds there is enchanting. His father lives upon a house on stilts in the middle of the coral reefs. Every day he goes out fishing, diving into the coral reef and spearing lobster and crab and fish and bringing them up to the shore. His father and grandfather dive into the water, swimming underneath it into the reefs themselves (the excuse for some amazing photography). Alternately they sit upon the side of the boat reeling out lines to bait the fish, dragging them in and occasionally clubbing them on the head. This is a world in which a crocodile lives outside the front door and birds walk into the living room.

There is a point here- and its pretty obvious. It might be about male bonding and it might be about the importance of the country and sea over the City. Actually the point is a cliche- but the sea itself isn't. It is endlessly fascinating. Neither is the relationship between father and son. This is handled sensitively. The two bond on a physical level. They playfight. The father corrects the son for winding up the fishing line. The son is allowed to hawl in a fish with adult guidance. He is taught how to take his first tiny steps towards diving. He is cautioned from being eaten by a crocodile. He brings water with which the men wash the boat. Fathers and sons can bond over fishing in a way that they can't over accountancy or law. That point is obvious but the acting, the little touches are far from obvious and much more interesting than that broader point.

Ultimately a film does not have to be about much to be worthwhile. There are all sorts of other problems here: the equation of mother equals boring, father equals exciting, the idea of a community without women. It did not matter to me in the end as I was watching it. The camera loves the open spaces of the Mexican coast. It captures the sunlight shimmering across the sea. It captures the meticulous scraping of the scales off the fish carcasses, and the creation of fish stew which looks so good you can almost taste it from the back seat of the cinema (this like the famous prison dinner scene in Goodfellas is not a scene to watch when you feel hungry). We had a major debate afterwards in the party I went to if the stew was as delicious as the fried fish and tortillas which you also see being made. But its watching the stuff being catched which is extraordinary- these human bodies twisting and turning amidst shoals of fish, lobsters retreating into the coral. Ok its romanticised but still its beautiful and impressive.

I don't claim much for Alamar: apart from this that its a great vision of a life. Its about small touches between the boy and the man and the seascape around them. Its the only film I think summed up by Douglas Adams- so long Alamar and thanks for all the fish!


James Higham said...

A young man and woman meet abroad, they fall in love, marry, have a child and then fall out of love.

So, highly unusual situation then, Tiberius?