Both Alamar and Toro Negro breathe new life into the stale visual repertoire of this geographic region, which has been mostly used as the backdrop for tourist videos, spring-breaker snapshots, and popular television adventure and travel shows. Seen almost exclusively from an exoticizing perspective, the Yucatán Peninsula has been framed as a recreation area –where the fantasy of discovery and exploration can be mapped out on to its landscape—or, alternately, as a place of ethnographic, archeological, and natural wonder. The dominant representative mode –aligned with the broader project of tourism development that has caused ecological devastation—has effaced the visual specificity of the region, dispossessed its communities of the possibility to articulate a local history and sense of time, and privileged generic spectacle over personal narratives.
Alamar and Toro Negro have a different approach to the visible world of the Yucatán Peninsula, and to the possibilities of its landscape as a cinematic subject. In the first place, they challenge the notion of seeing as a one-way action by the spectator. In both films, the camera foregrounds its presence self-reflexively, while bringing the act of looking to the center of attention. This gesture invites us to see along with the characters, instead of merely looking at them. At the same time, Toro Negro and Alamar portray individual stories that are embedded in specific realities, providing the narrative with a local habitation and a name. In this sense, Alamar is not merely a story that uses the Banco Chinchorro as a setting, but offers an intimate portrait of a community which focuses on the domestic and economic dimensions of the reef.
|Toro Negro, 2005|
Characterized by forthrightness of expression, along with a direct and vivid form of address, the world of the reef is immediately available to the senses. The expository aspects of narrative are taken care of in the first instants of the film: structured by the theme of arrival and departure, the plot is restrained to three central characters and to moments that develop over the course of a few days. The rest of Alamar is devoted to filling screen space with ocean and sky, to drawing our attention to what is visible, to setting the rhythm of spontaneous reaction.
The film’s sheer interest in aesthetics is palpably felt in its search for novel angles and forms of composition that are as heterogeneous as the fauna of the reef. However, González-Rubio allows something more to emerge out of every image. Poetic artifice is used to reveal multiple forms of perception. A different schema surfaces gradually: the dramatic base of the film allows the objects of nature to be both plainly seen and registered, and to become radiant symbols. Like the ocean, the narrative reflects light in its surface but contains lyrical and emotional density in its depths.
Alamar presents a world that is as physically tangible as it is elusive, a world we might long for even though it has vanished. The attentive gaze of the camera and directness of presentation resonate with the drama of attachment and separation; with an implied plea for ecological preservation that is in tension with the ephemeral nature of experience. By bringing together diverse genres and perspectives, Alamar multiplies the possibilities of representation of the Yucatán Peninsula. At the same time, it offers an intimate sense of what a community might feel like, however transitory this community may be.
Paulina Suarez is PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at NYU. She has an MA from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Literature from UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México).
Alamar is currently playing at Film Forum in New York City through Tuesday, August 3rd and at the San Francisco Film Society in California through Thursday, August 5th. Click here for other upcoming theatrical engagements of the film around the country.