The Raft (4 stars)

The Raft

Santiago Genovés's notorious Acali experiment is the focus of an insightful documentary

In his candid, complex 2010 documentary Regretters, Swedish director Marcus Lindeen staged a black box theatre-style meeting between two men as they reflected regretfully on experiences with gender reassignment surgery. For his latest, Lindeen navigates the choppy waters of a seaborne social experiment from 1973 with intelligence and innovation. Blending archive footage with theatrically framed, modern-day reflections, he teases unexpected facts and feelings between two decades-apart studies, in a film rippling with insights into identity politics and humanity under pressure.

In 1973, Mexican-Spanish anthropologist Santiago Genovés steered his fascination with human violence into a risky, if prescient experiment. For his proto-Big Brother-with-pretensions concept, Genovés invited ten people to join him on a steel raft, the Acali, crossing the Atlantic over 101 days. Treating participants like lab rats, he chose attractive contenders from mixed backgrounds, whose number included a Catholic priest (good for guilty feelings). He also banned books and placed women in charge, expecting boredom, sexism, resentment or longing to ignite into conflict or intimate congress. Luridly, the press wrote of the 'sex raft'.

Surprise: despite some sexual digressions and some bloody business involving a shark, violence did not erupt. From a charged voiceover narration based on his notes, we gradually learn that it was Genovés (who died in 2013) who became isolated, despite his struggles to manipulate events.

Meanwhile, reunited on a recreation of the Acali on a darkened set, the seven travellers still living reminisce tenderly about the experience. One person weeps, others confess to secret crushes. Tensions linger over Genovés's ethically dubious methods, but we also learn about how crises helped draw out the participants' strengths. What begins as a case study in conflict grows into a more complex, moving show of disagreements navigated and bonds forged amid danger and duress. 45 years on, this long, strange trip harbours still-resonant revelations.

Selected release from Fri 18 Jan.

The Raft

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Sweden / Denmark / US
  • 1h 37min
  • Directed by: Marcus Lindeen
  • UK release: 12 January 2018

A look at a 45-year-old experiment in which Mexican-Spanish anthropologist Santiago Genoves invited ten people to cross the Atlantic with him on a raft. Director Lindeen blends archive footage with modern-day reflections as surviving participants reminisce, in what makes for a complex moving show of disagreements and…