Family bonds and a tie to the sea
A luminous love letter to the Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral reef off Mexico’s coast, and to the tender bonds between a father and son, “Alamar’’ (“To the Sea’’) is a quasi-documentary that doesn’t offer much in the way of plot. Instead, writer, editor, director, and cinematographer Pedro González-Rubio takes the viewer on a leisurely journey through the timeless ritual of catching and cleaning fish, and the natural progression of paternal love over the course of a few days.
The four principal stars of the film basically play themselves, engaged in events that blur fiction and fact. In a prelude, we learn that Italian-born Roberta (Roberta Palombini) wants to leave Jorge (Jorge Machado), a straggly-haired, lean and muscled fisherman, and return to Rome with their 5-year-old son, Natan (the beautiful Natan Machado Palombini). Before mother and son depart, Jorge and Natan will spend a few days together in what amounts to a tender farewell. The film really begins when Jorge and Natan flee the “real world’’ for the idyllic but unsentimentalized fishing community of small shacks on stilts surrounded by pristine turquoise water in the Caribbean. Jorge meets up with an old fisherman, Matraca (Néstor Marín), whom Jorge refers to as his father and whom Natan calls Grandpa, although the biological connection isn’t clear. No matter; “Alamar’’ is an elegantly rendered portrait of generational ties to nature, the rhythms of day-to-day work, and the fleeting moments that mark intimate relationships.
With sparse dialogue and naturalistic camerawork — the magical stillness of boys and men in close contact with nature recalls movies such as “The Black Stallion’’ and “The Old Man and the Sea’’ — Jorge gently introduces his son to the ancient rituals of spear and line fishing. The boy watches from a motorboat as Jorge and Matraca dive off to spear fish and grab lobsters from the ocean floor, with the film showing off some spectacular underwater photography. Later, the men methodically cut and clean the fish and toss scraps to a crocodile that lurks nearby. Jorge teaches Natan about plants and birds, cooks tortillas and freshly caught barracuda for him, and wrestles with him on the floor of the shack as their bond develops naturally and gracefully. When the boy finally dons flippers and breathing gear and takes the undersea plunge, it’s treated not as a momentous event with dialogue about “becoming a man,’’ but as a simple initiation into a way of life.
An egret nicknamed Blanquita appears and sticks around, becoming a temporary pet for Natan. Jorge coaxes the egret onto his palm and shows his son how to feed the bird as it perches on his arm. Blanquita eventually leaves, and soon it’s time for Natan and Jorge to part, too. We’re left with the feeling that in a brief time, the father has imparted something lasting about life’s impermanence to his city-bound little boy.
Loren King can be reached at Loren.firstname.lastname@example.org.