IFFR 2010: ALAMAR Review

Contributor; The Netherlands
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IFFR 2010: ALAMAR Review
Alamar_poster.jpg"Alamar", the second film by director Pedro González-Rubio, deceived me. From a distance it seemed something superficial. A film that grabs its audience by merely setting it in a location many would like to spend their holiday; an idyllic coral reef. However, that would have been too easy. The fact that it took home a Tiger Award and placed number 10 at the audience award (with an average of 4.365 out of 5) at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam hints that preconception had to be quickly adjusted.

Mixing documentary with fiction, González-Rubio brings an intimately made piece about a five-year-old boy called Natan that goes on a holiday. It isn't just a holiday though. Opening with a series of photos we find out Natan is the son of the Italian Roberta Palombini and Mexican Jorge Machado who were once happy together but ended up divorcing. Natan's mom is relocating to Rome and that is why the little Natan will spend a final summer with his father at the Banco Chinchorro, the richest coral reef in Mexico. Following a simple but effective and creative title shot (a look at sea through a window Jorge made in his hut), the two enjoy their last days together with grandpa Nestor. Just swimming, fishing, playing, learning about and from their environment and relaxing. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now it would have been easy to have kept things at shooting pretty pictures (yes, everything has indeed been beautifully shot!), but director González-Rubio instead managed to also successfully portray the relationship between son, father and grandfather. Their relationship is being threatened, just like their surroundings (Banco Chinchorro is the second largest coral reef in the world with a still an intact ecosystem, but is threatened by urbanization) and even though a separation between Natan and Jorge is near and inevitable, González-Rubio wisely decided not to make things melodramatic. He portrays it with the tranquility of the sea water and like the days that just pass in film; peaceful and well-ballanced. The fact that it was shot in a period of only two months by only two people, González-Rubio capturing the visuals and a friend of his doing the sound, makes that all the more an achievement. And a great way to make a film, because it really captured the intimacy and the little boy simply just lets one's heart shine. Furthermore, not to be missed in "Alamar" are the roles given to non-humans. Next to the caiman, fish and lobsters that add to the wildlife part of the film, an interesting part is given to a white egret named Blanquita, who according to González-Rubio "just turned up one day" and almost forced itself to become their pet. It's the scenes with this little bird that not only again successfully display the father son relationship, but even add a hint of humor. 
At the very end "Alamar" lacks something hard to define be a real masterpiece, though in a true and honest way the film shows both the good fortune and tragedy of being a child with divorced parents. Perhaps it is a wish for more complexity, but on the other hand Alamar's simplicity is where it's strenght lays. A very enjoyable work that explores themes of love and freedom, "Alamar" almost makes you smell the sea, the fish and... happiness.
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Michael GuillenFebruary 9, 2010 4:27 PM

Nice review, Peter. This film is certainly gaining its adherents as time goes along (that is, festival time). It will be prominently featured in the next issue of Cinema Scope, I know, as that crew felt it was the "find" of last fall's Toronto International.

Ard VijnFebruary 10, 2010 5:03 AM

The weather in Rotterdam was lousy and cold (as always at the end of January) so this film felt like a nice little holiday trip. The Blanquita segment in the film is brilliant, the heron-like bird completely de-lousing and de-roaching the whole hut.
Seeing the grandfather clean a fish and throw bits over his shoulder to feed the huge caiman waiting under their hut was also something special...