The other day, while strolling a humid Brooklyn street, I overheard a twentysomething woman talking to her friends about her movie predilections. Her life is stressful, as it turns out, her work hours long and her job serious. When she goes to the movies, she wants to unwind, to take in easily digestible entertainment—to, as she put it, “put her brain on autopilot.” That this person plausibly represents a key urban intellectual demographic that was once connected and clued in to what was going on in film outside the multiplex and is now resigned to Hollywood’s paltry offerings, while justifying her artistic and emotional laziness on grounds of taste, is a matter too depressing to wrestle with at this juncture. But what’s also fascinating about her casual commentary is what it reveals about many viewers’ idea of escapism in film, and what we’ve come to label as such. If one wants to escape from the toll of the daily grind, why must it necessitate putting one’s brain “on autopilot”? Why has film culture split so drastically between high and low that any alternative to Hollywood fare is perceived as difficult and forbidding? In order for film to survive as a valid art form, audiences need to wish to escape to worlds not commercially prescribed to them. One need not retreat to fantasy to escape.
In a perfect world, Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar would be widely hailed and received as the movie of the summer. Escapist in the truest and least perturbing sense of the word, this conceptually gentle but artistically bold fiction-documentary hybrid takes viewers to a lush, vivid natural world—the second largest coral reef on the planet, the Banco Chinchorro to be exact, located in Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is in this serene place, never made overly picturesque or romantic by González-Rubio, that we grow acquainted with a father and son: lithe, thirtysomething fisherman Jorge Machado and incandescent prepubescent Natan Machado Palombini. The primal purity of the scenario is shocking—it’s simply the father imparting to his son the ways of his work. Man and child bond, but there’s nothing ritualized about it; their behavior and actions have a natural ebb and flow, guided only by forces of nature—sea, sky, love. Read Michael Koresky’s review of Alamar.