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Persona

Alamar

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There won't be much sitting on the fence for Alamar, or IMDB titled To The Sea. Those who resonate with glacial cinema will no doubt love it for the warm, blue-green, beautiful shots of the ocean and three generations of fisherman in and around it. The same crowd might also appreciate the relationship between father and son, even grandfather too, that is temporary, but captured lovingly in the here and now. Those that don't already like this kind of cinema are going to simply refer to it as boring.

For the A&F crowd, which typically digs deeper than simply the celluloid surface -- especially with this particular kind of film -- I'm not so sure it will resonate very deeply. You'll appreciate it for its beauty, its artistry, its heart. But we could have had a view into the fourth dimension of existence here, and the film simply decides not to go there. Either that, or they feel they're already there -- I could understand one trying to make pantheistic claims on the film.

Regardless, it is a wonderful moment of getting away, like taking a trip into nature. That whole dream of getting outside of the city or suburbia.

I personally enjoyed it, and by all counts, given how often I've fallen asleep to these kinds of films, I should have fallen asleep. Poor track record there. But I didn't, found it peaceful, absorbing, poetic, very well done.

It is a nice film. But it won't be a film for all.

Edited by Persona

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Rob Davis wrote about The Son:

The greatest pleasure, though, comes from watching the Dardennes treat the simple details of building a toolbox and the limits of human forgiveness as if they’re both vital, and maybe somehow related.

My favorite thing about Alamar is that it's a movie about three generations of men/boys and it's content to just watch them. It's a film about rites of passage and the passing-on of legacies and tradition, but, like the Dardennes in The Son, González-Rubio knows that close observation is a more precise and honest mode of representation than dialogue. Alamar is the best family film I've seen in a long time.

My friend Adam published a useful review/interview in Cinema Scope a few months ago. I'm convinced Adam is responsible for Alamar getting distribution. After seeing it at an early TIFF press screening, he started talking it up to every writer he knew, and there was a pack of fifteen or twenty of us at the last public screening.

Edited by Darren H

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Side note: Is Rob Davis still writing for Paste? Seems like the movie review links I've clicked on recently take me to review that have been written by others.

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Rob stepped away from Paste -- and from film writing, generally -- a couple months ago.

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Thanks, Darren. I always liked reading his reviews.

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Hmm. I'm amazed I didn't start a thread on this earlier. It was one of the highlights of the Newport Beach festival for me. Beautiful film visually. Even more so in terms of the relationship between the fathers/sons.

my review

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The L.A. Times Calendar sections list Alamar as opening on Friday.

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I personally enjoyed it, and by all counts, given how often I've fallen asleep to these kinds of films, I should have fallen asleep. Poor track record there. But I didn't, found it peaceful, absorbing, poetic, very well done.

Alamar is the best family film I've seen in a long time.

It took some time for me to settle into the film, but when it happened, I fell deeply in love with this movie.

I was delighted by the reactions among the audience I saw the film with. They literally gasped several times -- at the sight of a crocodile, or a bird walking right up to human beings. Or when the men reeled in some very large fish, which was perhaps the moment the film sunk its hook into me.

Had I seen this film at home, I would've been impressed by these moments, but hearing others react in unison (I joined them in some of these reactions) was a joy.

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Maybe Darrel is the only one whose enthusiam for this film matches and surpasses my own, but I thought I'd put a reminder here to remember this film when it comes time for your year-end Top 10 lists. Sorry if that's presumptuous. It was triggered by seeing the film among Eric Kohn's Top 10.

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Over here SDG assumes Alamar is a documentary, I raise and eyebrow and Darrel confesses that he's not sure himself how much of the film might be "designed."

I don't think the idea that the film is a documentary generated more than a fleeting thought while I was watching the film or reflecting on it, but just yesterday, Ann Hornaday wrote a piece on the the new neorealism, in which she suggested that Alamar feels very much like "real life":

In "Alamar," also opening Friday, Jorge and his son, Natan, spend a summer retreat on the Banco Chinchorro in the Mexican Caribbean. "Alamar's" story of their impending separation is largely invented (in real life, father and son don't live that far away from each other), but "Alamar" unfolds like a gentle, dreamy home movie, as the two characters fish, wrestle, watch the sea and learn from each other.

"Blue Valentine" and "Alamar" represent yet two more films we're seeing more of these days, which prefer vernacular that isn't the high-polish, confected characterizations and neat three-act structures of mainstream Hollywood. Instead, they follow the far messier and mundane contours of real life. The kitchens aren't copper-pot perfect but cluttered with dirty dishes. Hair isn't coiffed but bed-headed. Dialogue isn't a zingy string of one-liners but stammers, interruptions and ragged thoughts that end in . . . like, I don't know, just . . . whatever.

Informed by prose but infused with poetry, they join a recent wave of films that, no matter what they're called, have suggested a promising direction in global and American cinema. Variously identified as "mumblecore," "indie," "neorealist" or even "neo-neorealist," these are movies that have almost nothing in common with Hollywood spectacles and escapist star vehicles. Instead, they deliver a level of authenticity, immediacy and emotional transparency that are instantly recognizable to an audience that increasingly lives on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

--I was so thrown by the lumping in of "mumblecore" films that I wasn't sure what to make of Hornaday's piece, but it's mumblecore discussion that takes up much of the rest of the article, which I found stimulating if not entirely clear:

More than realist, neorealist or neo-neorealist, perhaps the way to describe these filmmakers is responsive - to their social context, to their environment, to the media they use every day and to a movie audience that, like them, is in the process of changing its own aesthetic expectations.

Where mainstream movies hew to predictable formulas, responsive films take viewers on quirky, revelatory journeys: In Bahrani's "Man Push Cart," the film simply follows a Pakistani food cart vendor through the canyons of Manhattan over the course of a night, with no discernible plot twists or payoff.

And where mainstream movies depend on recognizable stars to lure investors (and, theoretically, viewers), responsive films feature unknowns or maybe non-professionals: Both "Blue Valentine" and "Tiny Furniture" mix actors and amateurs in their casts, creating a reckless, let's-put-on-a-show spontaneity. "Momma's Man" features Jacobs's real-life mother and father as the parents of a character played by an actor; in "Terri," his upcoming coming-of-age comedy, he has cast such recognizable actors as John C. Reilly and "The Office's" Creed Bratton.)

Edited by Christian

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Over here SDG assumes Alamar is a documentary, I raise and eyebrow and Darrel confesses that he's not sure himself how much of the film might be "designed."

Well, the relationships at least appear to be true to life: As far as I can tell, Jorge, Natan and Roberta "play" themselves; they really are a father, son and mother with the actual family situation portrayed in the film. That's enough to qualify as a "documentary" in my book, even if a semi-artificial, semi-staged one, a la The Story of the Weeping Camel.

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I am pretty sure Grandpa is reading a Bible out on the deck around minute 48. If this is correct, it is one of the few films I can think of in which we see a character "doing devotions." But I can't quite tell whether or not it is a Bible he is reading.

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I am pretty sure Grandpa is reading a Bible out on the deck around minute 48. If this is correct, it is one of the few films I can think of in which we see a character "doing devotions." But I can't quite tell whether or not it is a Bible he is reading.

Huh. I'm rewatching the film this morning, and am at the 56-minute mark. I've been on the computer while the movie plays -- not ideal, obviously, although I've seen the film before. I'll scan back to check.

Yup, that looks like a Bible, although we can't be sure.

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What caught my eye was:

Lightweight Paper

Double Column Page Layout

Zippered Book Cover

All signs point to bible.

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Saw this via Netflix last night.

Give that bird an Oscar.

I enjoyed it for the most part, but the lack of clarity as to the degree to which certain scenes were staged complicated it for me at times. Like the "message in a bottle" scene. I really, really hope that it was the child's desire to send that bottle off, and not the filmmakers'. Similarly, the closing scene between mother and son felt contrived to me -- like, "We need a super-poetic image to close with," so they came up with something a little too... I don't know... nice.

Still, there were more than enough moments that were, to all appearances, authentic and thus extraordinary that I'm happy to recommend it.

And I found the film to be deeply saddening, as I thought about this child's divided world, and how he'll end up being one of the last witnesses to a certain way of life. I wanted to pull that glass bottle out of the water and say, "No... that's your testimony. Someday, you'll wish you still had it."

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I didn't mind the realism ambiguity so much. This film is a great formal mystery, and I just let that mystery abide. Without any additional knowledge about the scripting and production, the film comes across to me as a fable, or the kind of story we make up for our kids at bedtime. It is just a blessed vision of a son and his father immersed in the basic tasks of human existence. The sadness of the reality of the film exists, at least for the Caribbean interim, outside of the brackets of this odd realism.

This is a pretty terrible story when seen broadly, as I can't imagine how this poor boy is dealing with the massive transition between mother and father. But I think the film acknowledges this sadness, and wants us to see the glory of this boy and his father together anyway. At least, given the reality, there is this treasure.

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Still, there were more than enough moments that were, to all appearances, authentic and thus extraordinary that I'm happy to recommend it.

So have the times changed the way we look at documentaries, or is this film so totally absorbing and different from The White Diamond that authenticity matters less?

Honestly I don't say this to poke you like, "Aha!," but because I think that the sheer amount of recent dramatized and staged docs has made us care less what is documentary as opposed to unscripted entertainment. Last year's Catfish and Exit Through the Gift Shop and I'm Still Here being the most recent examples. Herzog's been doing this stuff for years, but it has certainly been more prevalent and taken to larger proportions lately.

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For what it's worth, the first question Gonzales-Rubio was asked in Toronto was, "Is this documentary or a fiction?" His response: "It's a film."

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That is helpful, Darren.

Favorite Denis Q&A half-drunk response: "It may not be real, but it is real in its emotions."

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FYI: Film Movement has marked all DVDs 40% off for non-subscribers, which means that Alamar is only 15 bucks. (And for subscribers, it's only 9 bucks.)

Edited by Overstreet

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