8 December 2009 | tlwilliams
A film that would make Herzog proud
Big River Man is, for me, the best film of 2009.
Martin Strel is one of those rare individuals that is larger than life. He's an overweight world record holding athlete that is also an alcoholic, chronic gambler and occasional action movie star. He is a national celebrity in his home country Slovenia where he enjoys benefits such as free club memberships, being allowed to drive drunk and park wherever he likes and also access to a secluded cave where he inputs a special code given to him by the government to meditate in peace and prepare for his upcoming challenge.
Martin is very much a superhero, as someone later points out in the film. He is forced to swim with a white mask around his face to prevent his skin from burning to a crisp. It is such a surreal thing to see this fat Slovenian masked man swimming through the amazon, being greeted by hoards of fans as he makes progress. But where this film really becomes interesting is to see Strel's progression into "the fourth dimension" as he calls it. The mental and physical toll that the marathon takes on him is really outstanding, he ceases to exist as a human being and is driven by an animal instinct mixed with delusions and hallucinations.
All of this without even mentioning all the other fascinating challenges that come with navigating the Amazon. The only down side for me was the navigator (cant remember his name) who I believe was also slowly loosing his mind (or maybe sipping a bit too much of that local ayahausca), at times he had interesting things to say... but for the most part he was just annoying like a raving lunatic can be.
Mr. Strel is my kind of guy. Any one can be extremely disciplined, maintaining top physical form to face a great challenge. But only a true genius, an icon, can face that challenge on his own terms, fueled by wine and Cutty Sark. The son is also an interesting "character", he is the voice of reason and organization much needed to keep this machine going, they complete each other in some ways.
Martin Strel is a Herzogian Hero, and an inspiration for us all. I don't know what kind of future he has. I hope he doesn't attempt another swim (although I will root for him if he does). Men like him are simply immune to death, even if he doesn't continue I sure he will end up as President of Slovenia or something.