Pedro González-Rubio has said that he hesitates to call his film Alamar a documentary, since it contains some scripted moments. But then so did the films of Robert Flaherty, the father of the documentary feature, and if Alamar has any one clear progenitor, it’s Flaherty. Alamar begins with home movies and slide-show footage charting the brief, ill-fated love affair between Jorge Machado (a scrawny, long-haired Mexican who’s lived most of his life in the jungle and on the beach) and Roberta Palombini (an Italian who prefers the comforts of civilization). Before separating, the couple had a son named Natan, whom Roberta is about to take with her to live in Rome. Prior to Natan’s departure, Jorge takes the boy on a fishing trip, so he can teach his son the simple life skills he himself learned when he was young: how to catch and clean fish, how to tie knots, how to sand a boat, and how to enjoy what the day brings.
All these people are real, but not everything that happens to Jorge and Natan on their trip occurred naturally. González-Rubio staged a few scenes, and appears to have doctored a shot or two in post-production. Still, Alamar is essentially a plotless vérité exercise, following the rhythm of everyday life by the ocean. When there’s work to be done, Jorge and Natan work. When it’s time to eat, they press up some tortillas and fill them with stewed barracuda. And when they have idle time, Jorge teaches Natan to snorkel, or helps him look all over their little island for a white egret who wandered into their hut. There isn’t much to Alamar—and González-Rubio sometimes seems to go out of his way to keep the film uncluttered by incident—but it’s short and agreeable, and touching in the way it shows Natan enjoying a life very different from his mother’s. González-Rubio generates empathy for a child between two worlds: one in Mexico, where aged fisherman pull their dinner from the reef, and one in Italy, where, according to Natan, “The fish is already bought.”