A few weeks ago an article ran in Believer magazine about FreeTown Christiana, a socialist commune in Copenhagen that sprung up in 1971 and was granted survival as a “social experiment” by the Danish government. Tales of laying sewer lines by hand and sharing workshop tools were lightly peppered into a narrative concerning the inner and external threats poised to destroy the Christianian way of life. Despite this focus on the area’s gradual loss of “hippieness”, I felt compelled to visit—driven not by interest, but the land’s fantasy-like appeal. Freetown isn’t necessarily a land of cultural riches, but its direct opposition to modern life—its lack of boxy gray office buildings, regimented 9-5 lifestyles, and artistic warmth—is inherently intriguing in this dismal world of corporate hullabaloo. Likewise, the lifestyle showcased in Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar feels other-worldly; Jorge’s interactions with his child speak to some primal part of the human conscious—some fundamental characteristic forever lost in modernity, yet nonetheless appreciated for its simplistic physicality and beauty.
Natan is the son of Jorge, a man of Mayan origins who, through a long-distance relationship glossed over in the film’s opening, fell in love with and impregnated Roberta, a Roman. The boy’s world is thus split between Rome, the epicenter of both modern and ancient western culture, and the hunter-and-gatherer lifestyle of Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro’s coral reef island. There is no real narrative to speak of—an African Ibis shows up that Natan dubs “Blanquita” and attempts to train, and the boy must eventually say goodbye to island life before heading back to Rome, but most of the film is dedicated to scenes of Jorge’s fishing endeavors. This isn’t the type of fishing you’re imagining—most of it is performed underwater with harpoons; after returning home the day’s findings are gutted and either eaten or tossed to nearby alligators. This isn’t so much a film as it is an old school nature documentary that lacks narration—nearly every scene captures a stunning natural beauty absent in what we consider the modern world; clear blues seas vanish under the gaze of pink-and-purple horizons, massive branches bend under the weight of men shuffling across their surface with Tarzan-like finesse. It speaks to tendencies and appreciations buried deep within us all. Everything is at once familiar and alien, comforting and alarming.
Though Alamar primarily focuses on Natan’s island life, this is also a film about ourselves—about the nature of cinema itself. Just as Natan is swept away from his home in the Eternal City, the cinema can be a place of transportation and escape. And just as Banco Chinchorro must be accepted as an anomaly in the global death-grip of today’s economy, so must theatergoers leave behind their cinematic fantasies and reenter the real world following a film’s completion. This movie acts more as a screen for reflection—its scenes of tropical splendor tinged only by the sounds of nature and rare bits of dialog. The feelings it conjure are akin to those inflicted by Christmas Cards set next to an open flame—reminders of some distant past we never quite knew, but nonetheless acknowledge as “simplier” and charming.