Sum­mer at sea

Ala­mar, drama, not rated, in Span­ish and Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jen­nifer Levin For The New Mex­i­can

If you’re lucky when you’re a kid, you get to have at least one un­for­get­table sum­mer that stands out from all oth­ers — the sum­mer you learned to swim in the deep end; the one when you were fi­nally al­lowed to ride your bike around town or go to the movies with your friends; or the last sum­mer you spent with your dad be­fore you moved to Rome with your mom. Ala­mar (To the Sea) — spans such a sum­mer for 7-year-old Natan Machado Palom­bini, who ac­com­pa­nies his fa­ther, Jorge, to his home at Banco Chin­chorro in Quin­tana Roo, “a jun­gle in the mid­dle of the sea” and the rich­est co­ral reef site in Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to the film. Along with Natan’s grand­fa­ther, Nestór Marín, they spend their fi­nal weeks to­gether fish­ing, liv­ing in a small wooden hut built upon stilts in the wa­ter.

There isn’t much plot to Ala­mar, and for movie­go­ers who rely on ac­tion and rapid-fire di­a­logue, it will feel in­ter­minably slow (though it lasts just 73 min­utes). Orig­i­nally re­leased in Mex­ico in 2009, it has re­ceived sev­eral awards, in­clud­ing the Au­di­ence Award and the Fea­ture Film Com­pe­ti­tion Award at the More­lia In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, the FIPRESCI Prize at the Toulouse Latin Amer­i­can Film Fes­ti­val, and the Grand Jury Prize for Ibero-Amer­i­can Com­pe­ti­tion at the Mi­ami Film Fes­ti­val. Writer/di­rec­tor Pe­dro González-Rubio has been pur­pose­fully vague when asked if Ala­mar is a nar­ra­tive film or doc­u­men­tary. The ac­tors play them­selves and the sit­u­a­tion is real — Natan re­ally is mov­ing to Rome with his Ital­ian mother; Jorge re­ally did grow up

fish­ing the Banco Chin­chorro — but many cam­era shots and scenes were ob­vi­ously set up for sto­ry­telling, tone, and beauty. The re­sult is a hy­per­nat­u­ral, sym­pa­thetic piece of art that is equal parts por­trait of fa­ther/son re­la­tion­ships, tri-gen­er­a­tional com­ing-of-age story, and na­ture film.

An ini­tial ex­pos­i­tory se­quence grace­fully sketches the ro­mance be­tween Machado and Roberta Palom­bini and their even­tual dis­il­lu­sion­ment with each other’s life­styles and tem­per­a­ments. There doesn’t seem to be an­i­mos­ity, just a part­ing of the ways. Soon, Natan is trav­el­ing from Roberta’s home in the city with a shirt­less, shoe­less, wild-haired Jorge to Banco Chin­chorro, which they reach by bus, by foot, by boat, and then by a smaller boat. Natan is sea­sick for much of the long jour­ney, and in the way Jorge cares for and watches over him, we first wit­ness the in­ti­macy of their re­la­tion­ship, a close­ness and pro­tec­tion en­tirely lack­ing the “He’s my son!” bravado typ­i­cal of Amer­i­can cin­ema.

The ac­tors play them­selves and the sit­u­a­tion is real, but many cam­era shots and scenes were ob­vi­ously set up for

sto­ry­telling, tone, and beauty.

The cam­era’s point of view serves as an in­te­gral fourth mem­ber of the fish­ing fam­ily. It lets us know how to feel about the sea. When Natan is sick on the boat, we too can feel the end­less rock­ing of the boat on the wa­ter. The shal­low wa­ter, where their house is, is clean and placid, calm­ing in its rip­ples; the cam­era lingers long enough on each shot to in­duce a state of mild hyp­no­sis in the viewer. The cam­era also pays close at­ten­tion to each per­son’s in­her­ent char­ac­ter — the pace of speech, the sur­faces of skin, the en­ergy he or she brings to ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ter­ac­tions. Jorge is firm but re­as­sur­ing when he teaches Natan how to snorkel, as if he knows ex­actly what fears the lit­tle boy has of the plas­tic tube and mask. Nestór is equally pa­tient as he in­structs Jorge how to pull in bar­racuda, which they eat for din­ner in hand-pressed tor­tillas. Later, when Natan is able to snorkel with more con­fi­dence, the cam­era shows us how the wa­ter opens up to him, the ex­panse of sea be­neath him as deep and mys­te­ri­ous as the jun­gle that sur­rounds them.

It is a movie of small mo­ments. An egret en­ters their home and be­comes a sort of pet; Natan names it Blan­quito. Natan squeals with de­light as Jorge cleans fish and tosses guts up to the gulls that swoop down to grab each of­fer­ing. The closer they get to the end of their time to­gether, the more Jorge and Nestór pre­pare Natan for what will come next. No mat­ter where Natan is, Jorge re­as­sures him, he will al­ways be car­ing for him. In a scene with no di­a­logue or con­text, Jorge and Natan wres­tle on the floor of the liv­ing room. Natan is still small enough that he must strain with some force against the ef­fort­less ways his dad man­ages to im­mo­bi­lize him. The im­mense trust and love be­tween the two fairly leaps off the screen, and one can’t help but won­der how long it will be be­fore they see each other again. There are no “spoil­ers” to give away, no twists or se­crets to

Ala­mar. It will likely pro­mote deep, rest­ful sleep to dreams of gen­tly lap­ping waves and bird calls. Some view­ers might be in­spired to go fish­ing, pos­si­bly in Mex­ico. It’s a quiet movie, de­cep­tively sim­ple, with a lin­ger­ing im­pact.

Small mo­ments, big changes: Natan Machado Polom­bini

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