An artful fusion of documentary and fiction in which the non-professional cast play versions of themselves, Mexican filmmaker Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar begins with a couple separating. Roberta (Roberta Palombini) has returned to her native Italy, while her partner Jorge (Jorge Machado), who is of Mayan ancestry, remains in Mexico. Their five-year-old son Natan (Natan Machado Palombini) will spend the summer with his father before flying back to his mother in Rome.
On one level Alamar is a record of the blissful trip undertaken by Jorge and Natan during this interim period. Travelling to an island off the endangered Banco Chinchorro coral reef in the Caribbean, the duo live in a wooden hut on stilts. Alongside an older fisherman Macara (Nestor Marin), Jorge and Natan spend their days snorkelling in the the turquoise-blue ocean and catching fish, which they will later prepare and eat for dinner. The child is taught the names of the exotic wildlife they encounter, and he also manages to befriend a white egret Blanquita, who ventures into their cabin.
Shot on HD video by the twenty-something Gonzalez-Rubio himself, Alamar is a work of luminous beauty, which immerses the viewer into its marine paradise. The characters are utterly at ease in this natural environment, and it’s a pleasure to simply observe them carrying out their everyday tasks. Yet what’s particularly moving is watching the tender, loving relationship that clearly exists between Jorge and Natan. Little dialogue is exchanged between them: the emphasis instead is on their physical interactions, such as how Jorge places his hand over his son’s heart during a choppy sea crossing, or how they both relish a mock fight together.
Despite its short running time, Alamar is a film which draws on mythical currents and which achieves considerable emotional resonance. As Natan’s sublime summer of exploration comes to an end and he faces the prospect of living thousands of miles apart from his father, one is made aware of the impermanence of all our lives.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 17–Thu 23 Sep; GFT, Glasgow, Fri 24–Thu 30 Sep.