Depths of Beauty

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The 2009 Mexican film Alamar, which I saw at the Detroit Film Theatre on October 1, 2010, did what all good DFT films do—took me to a new place, in this case physically, to the bottom of the ocean, where I discovered unique structures and organizations of nature.

Above this mysterious beauty, the gentle, rippling blue of the water gave me a sense of freedom, especially in contrast to the crowded, dense world of the city just outside the DFT doors.

The sight of the wooden houses on stilts above the water touched a desire in me for escapism. Out there, you could feel untouched by the outside world. But of course, you would also be vulnerable to windstorms, high water, and, maybe most of all, loneliness.

The filmmaker (Pedro González-Rubio) devoted so much time to the physical environment of the film that it came as no surprise when the final credits began with information about preserving the coral reef that was featured so prominently in the film.

The 9:30 p.m. screening of Alamar completed a pleasant Friday evening at the Detroit Institute of Arts that also included a visit to the new print exhibit, In Your Dreams: 500 Years of Imaginary Prints. I’m sure that the creative and edgy flights of imagination that produced these works of art affected my own perceptions in a way that helped me view Alamar, which had many dreamlike qualities.

Alamar (translated, “to the sea”) showed a father’s attempt to bond with his young son on a fishing expedition before the son went to live with his mother in Italy. You felt some sadness in the father, knowing that he wouldn’t share these fishing experiences with his son, the way he was sharing experiences with his older friend and co-worker whom he affectionately called father.

As someone who makes a living sitting in a cubicle in front of a computer, I felt some envy in the basic, direct way that the men earned their living. They were in charge of every step of the supply chain, from production to sales to delivery. There was spectacular underwater photography of the men weaving through schools of fish to spear lobsters and fish that lived in the crevices of the coral on the ocean bottom.

Many animals were harmed in the making of this film, in a very realistic display of two men doing their job providing food for other humans. Any squeamishness or guilt about seeing the fish and lobster killed was balanced by the knowledge that earlier that day I had eaten turkey, ham, and chicken. I also knew that the lobster and fish had probably themselves fed on smaller creatures.

In another unique DFT experience, it was fascinating to hear the different native tongues of the mother and father. Hearing them talk to the young boy in loving tones gave me the chance to compare the rhythms of two Romance languages—the free-flowing lyrical Italian language of the mother, and the more deliberate, but still energetic, Spanish language of the father.

Alamar also reminded me of the DFT’s Saturday afternoon Cinema Mexicano series, which continues on October 30 with the 1933 drama El Compadre Mendoza.

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Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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