El Mar La Mar (2017)

July 31st, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dirs: Joshua Bonnetta, J.P. Sniadecki | USA 2017 | English, Spanish |Doc | 94 min · Colour

Renowned documentarian J P Sniedecki teams up with Joshua Bonetti for this episodic reverie that scratches at the edges of fantasy horror as its gradually emerging narrative explores strange occurrences in the Sonoran Desert between Mexico and the United States (rather than the seascapes suggested in its obstruse title).

The opening scene, entitled Rio (River), is a dizzying affair bordering on nausea as the camera flickers alongside a waterside seen peeping through vegetation. The second is called Costas (coasts) but it is difficult to make out its obscure subject matter, as the mood gradually grows more unsettling.

Disparate reports of strange sightings occur daily in this sparsely populated and inhospitatble region and nameless locals narrate their experiences against blacked out footage: visits from travellers and immigrants making their way from Mexico seem totally unprepared for the horrors that await them: snakes, insects, fierce climatic changes and spiky vegetation are some of the perils of this dangerous route, not to mention the human element in the shape of border guards, both official and self-appointed, who are are known to open gunfire both day and night.

The directors’ approach has a highly bewildering feel, and as the mood grows increasingly sinister, faceless voices talk of traces of human remains and even dead bodies sadly left to decompose without trace, save for their faded clothing. Abandoned rucksacks, shoes and toys are testament to this trail of tragedy, gradually becoming part of the gruesome landscape.

EL MAR LA MAR‘s polyphonic soundtrack, disembodied voices and 16-mm visuals are a stark and strangely beguiling tribute to human endeavour, recording for posterity those who never made it in their quest to seek a more financially rewarding life. Sometimes the grass is not greener. MT

AWARDED A SPECIAL MENTION AT BERLINALE 2017 | FORUM SECTION

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