13 July 2011 | robert-temple
A film set in 'the place of origins'
Once in a while, a film appears that restores one's faith in the cinema as a medium, and reminds one of its possibilities for opening a window on a magical world. This is one such film. The film is unconventional, and proceeds at a slow pace certain to madden even further the maddening crowd. But for those who like to know more about 'real life', especially in unfamiliar surroundings, this slice of life provides a unique vision. The main characters are a man and his son, and the man's elderly father. It seems that the man and his son really are just that, whereas the grandfather is an actor. The man is a Mexican 'of Mayan Indian descent', though he does not look like a Lacandone to me, so he must be from another tribe descended from the Maya of this particular region (the Lacandone, who are pure Maya, being much further inland, living in depths of the forests), and his son has come to visit him on the Mexican coast from his Italian mother, who lives in Rome. It is the boy's introduction to a timeless way of life which in many respects is thousands of years old. The setting is the remarkable Mexican heritage site of Banco Chinchorro, a coral reef in the sea near the ancient Maya centres of Quintana Roo and Cozumel, in the Caribbean off south-eastern Mexico. The father and grandfather live the lives of simple fishermen in a hut on stilts just off the shore. The film features a great deal of undersea photography showing them spearing lobsters on the seabed without oxygen tanks, but only snorkels. The young Mexican director Pedro Gonzalez Rubio, who studied at the London Film School, has made this amazing film with himself as writer, cameraman and editor, and apparently the assistance of only two other people apart from the cast. He says he wanted to show life 'in the middle of the sea, in the place of origins'. He certainly succeeded in doing that, for there is a timeless quality to this film. It makes such a difference in a feature film which is not a documentary to see real people doing real things in real places rather than the perpetual parade of illusion which is what feature films normally are. The life portrayed here in the house on stilts and in the sea, the lack of any watch or clock, the entire immersion in 'what happens naturally' (often personified as 'Nature') is a salutary lesson to us all, prisoners as we are of a rigidly systematized and over-structured reality which is really a false reality. The people in this film are living a dream, and it is a true dream, whereas we are living a nightmare, and it is a false one, a monstrous parody of life invented and enacted by maniacs. One of the touching emotional details in this film is the friendship between the boy and a wild egret whom he names Blancquita. Although the little white bird has yellow eyes, when the boy draws it, he gives it blue eyes. Frigate birds and a young crocodile also feature as characters in the film. Rubio is a poet, and his filmed poem is a masterpiece.