Alamar ("To the Sea") Film Review – Less is More

My family and some friends recently watched Alamar, the new Mexican-Italian feature by Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio (available through, on one of our countless, steamy east coast evenings.   As we adjusted our over-stimulated, short-attention span watching habits to this near-documentary, it seemed a calm, cool peace from a simpler corner of our planet gradually washed over us, like the blue water so prominently featured throughout the meditative film.

alamar film cover

Initially – especially the parents of boys – thought their kids wouldn’t respond to the soft rhythm of the gorgeous film, but it managed to keep the attention of the boys and girls, women and men.  The centerpiece of the film is a father-son relationship amidst the idyllic life of subsistence fishermen in the Mexican Caribbean – selling or eating what they catch, sleeping in hammocks in cottages on stilts in the water, learning to swim, dive, and navigate the sometimes treacherous sea, for an ultimate “Free-range kid” experience.  Their quality time together will be cut short imminently when five year-old Natan returns to live the urban life with his mother.  In an opening scene that feels like raw documentary footage the parents describe their doomed love.  She is a city girl and he is a man of the wild, who doesn’t want to be constrained by a concrete jungle.  A life together raising their love child calls for one of them to compromise all they know, so the marriage is unsustainable, but the joy it produced is real, in Natan, the beautiful, perfect mix of his mother and father (these are not actors playing the roles, and even their real names are kept for the film).

Parents might be concerned by a brief vignette of the young couple on the beach near the film’s start.  No worries – they’re just in European-style bathing suits and that’s the most risqué it gets.  Later in the film posters of pin-up girls in tight bikinis are shown adorning walls of bachelor fishermen shacks, but that’s as far as it goes.

The tenderness of the father-son relationship more than makes up for any concerns about appropriate content.   When you watch, pay attention to the first impression you might have of Natan’s father Jorge and then notice how this changes by the end of the film.  Looks deceive.  Jorge is no Tarzan.  He knows the Latin classification of native plants and viewers will appreciate the care with which he converses, teaches, protects and disciplines his young son.  In the end, many might be pining for that relationship with their own father and forget the initial impression they had of the Mexican man who eschews the urbane life.  Like Jorge’s own life, the movie’s themes remind us that much of nature is not for us to tame or own.  The egret affectionately named Blanquita by Natan, might come close and linger, but in spite of best efforts, she can’t be domesticated and kept.  This mediation on “detachment,” a theme so rare in our consumer culture, can spur rich discussion across generations – and is one of the many gifts of Alamar.

Faithful to its title, the sea itself plays a major role in Alamar.  We are surrounded, immersed, awed, fed, and threatened by it throughout the film – again, we can’t own it or tame it.  It’s hard not to be reminded of the mess we’re making of our oceans when we see how generous and gorgeous it is to those who treat it well, co-existing harmoniously with it.  Without a drop of lecturing, this is serves as a powerful treatise on environmental stewardship.

We’ve enjoyed some delightful family films this summer, like Toy Story 3, and now add Alamar to that strong list.  As one of our friends commented a few days after our movie night, “the more time went by, the more I liked it, and couldn’t stop thinking about it.”  And when I asked my 7 year-old which of those two films would she prefer to see again, she couldn’t decide – both were so good.


By Homa S. Tavangar, author, Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World (Random House/Ballantine, 2009).   Growing Up Global contains a full chapter on additional foreign films to watch with your family, and was named a “Best New Parenting Book” by Scholastic Parent + Child.

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