Listening to IFC.com's podcast counting down the top films of 2010 in the opinions of Matt Singer and Alison Widmore introduced me to a few films I hadn't heard of before. Sweetgrass and Alamar were the two that Matt Singer raved about which I had heard little about. I knew that Sweetgrass was a pensive and observant documentary about sheep herders, but Alamar was completely outside my periphery. I had written both down with the intent to watch and caught up with Sweetgrass back in January (which I thought was a beautiful and hypnotic study of something I'd never experience otherwise) but had yet to see Alamar. I finally got a chance to see it this past Thursday. What I experienced was 73 minutes of a relationship developing and moments being created which were unforgettable.
Alamar is simple. Our main characters are a father and son, Jorge and Natan respectively, who don't get a chance to see each other often because Natan's mother has custody and lives in Italy. Jorge is a native South American of Mayan descent and rarely gets a chance to spend quality time with his son. The film starts with a photos and a voice-over that detail the romance that lead to Natan's conception. It then leads to Natan leaving his mother to go to South America for a few weeks to live in the open sea and spend time with each other.
What follows is series of vignettes of the father and son getting to know each other through their fishing, sleeping, playing, snorkeling, and conversation. Each moment tender and subtle in the way it develops the way these characters see each other and what they mean to one another. It's reminiscent of how a vacation sticks in the memory: you remember random moments of fun, moments of tenderness, and moments of happiness just as much as you remember the big events and sadnesses that occurred. Vacations are usually a week or two long but they have as much emotion, feelings, and developments to fill a month. Director Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio takes the moments that matter and splices them together into a beautiful wave of a film. Whether it's a moment of the two lip-synching together or feeding the birds with fish guts, each moment is just as important as the other when later the father and son must split and the viewer is left as empty and disappointed as the parties involved.
There's one special sequence when an egret comes to their above-water hut and the father and son feed it and make friends with it. The father teaches the son in a beautiful way how far the egret has come and the respect he must have for the egret and all the animals that are encountered on life's journey. While the son listens intently and is hypnotized by this beautiful white bird, I as a viewer was struck by how beautiful and perfectly constructed of a moment it was. The film never feels contrived (especially since the actors really are father and son!) and always feels like we're privy to something much bigger than the frame implies.
I am SO grateful to Matt Singer of IFC.com's podcast for directing me to this film and recommend that anyone who has any interest check it out. Alamar is currently available to watch instantly on Netflix and is only a short 73 minutes long. It's worth checking out for the cinematography alone.