Natan Machado Palombini and Jorge Machado star in Alamar (2009)
The Mexican Coral Reef of Banco Chincorro (the second biggest reef barrier on the planet, the closing title card tells us) provides the setting to a kindhearted story of father and son bonding in Alamar, a beautifully meditative film that portrays parental affection without ever succumbing to sentiment or cliché. It owes something to the docu-fiction school of Robert Flaherty (Nanook Of The North, 1922) and many of the locations recall his ill-fated project with German Expressionist F.W. Murnau on TABU: A Story Of The South Seas (1931); although that was entirely fictionalized. This is director González-Rubio's first standalone effort after co-directing 2005's Toro negro (Carlos Armella), and he also serves as cinematographer and editor. If there's any notional danger of the filmmaker spreading himself too thin then it is quickly dispelled. The film has a cinéma vérité style which absorbs us into the lifestyle of these simple fisherman - the middle section is spent almost entirely at sea and I never would have guessed - as somebody who has tried and failed at fishing themself - that I would have been so captivated by a pastime I myself find boring.
It's truly to the credit of Machado and Palombini that I don't find this boring, as they etch a loving and selfless portrait of a father and son relationship; their dynamic is simple but their love infinite. Their performances (if they are performances) are incredibly naturalistic and largely dialogue free, with emotions existing in their physical interactions - as they befriend a white egret the father and son become even closer. He teaches the boy how to gain the trust of the bird and how to treat it with care. The egret rests on Jorge's hand as he tries to get it to walk onto Natan's arm. The bird avoids the boy but they persist anyway. It is clear that Jorge wants the best for his son and wants him to experience nature and the wild while he has the opportunity - their time together will be short lived as Natan will soon be going to live with his mother in Rome. The fact that their farewell is inevitable makes it all the more powerful.
The film has no score except for in the opening and closing credits, and therefore the music composed by Diego Benlliure has been ignored by most reviewers. Which is a shame, because it's a really lovely piece of work which serves the story well. González-Rubio obviously wanted the film to feel observational; non-diegetic music often feels false in informing emotion and mood so the director has bookended his picture with music rather than editing it together with the images. It may be minimalist but Alamar is packed with feeling and actually engaged me much more than I expected it to. The central relationship is really believable and heartwarming, the pace lyrical - Alamar is like a hymn to the ocean and family. It's languid and tranquil; the diving scenes are bathed in a beautifully deep blue and the pink evening skies illuminate the native shacks that root themselves in the water. The film is honest and informative, and at 73 minutes it's a trip I'll enjoy taking again...
Extras: Only a trailer.