El Mar La Mar Screen 11 articles

El Mar La Mar

2017

El Mar La Mar Poster
  • Instead of offering a short burst of terror followed by the prospect of a quick escape, this immersive, sensorially complex movie evokes the terrifying disorientation and loneliness of migration: the eerie sounds of sand crunching underfoot; the surreal sights of jugs of water left by well-wishers; fragments of voices heard over radio transmissions. . . . The result is simultaneously elusive and concrete: abstract cinema that packs a punch.

  • Although artfully constructed, full of breathtaking and poetic images, the film never turns this place into a merely aesthetic project. Rather it tells its story—and the discomfort and horror it creates in the viewer is definitely political. Facts about immigration are already commonly known, and a more conventional documentary about this border might not have given such a strong sense of the cruelty and horror that immigrants experience, and of their courage and desperation.

  • While Sousa Dias’ film searches for ways to show (and hide) the faces of the children of the political prisoners (whose voices and tragedies we also hear), Bonnetta and Sniadecki choose to ignore the faces of the Mexicans involved, entirely. I could understand this if there were no faces at all in the film. But this is not the case. We are shown faces, but none are of Mexican people. What is the reason for this?

  • The US-Mexico border, the longest direct boundary between the First World and the Third, has been a geopolitical flashpoint for decades, and Bonnetta/Sniadecki’s work not only intervenes on this thematic level, it is also an invigorating experiment in film form. Just as much as Kaurismaki, Gray or Peck, the filmmakers point the way forward for cinema to be not just worthy, but great.

  • Static shots of desert remains (clothes, plastic religious objects, glasses, cars) alternate with unsettling imagery of nature, in vivid detail and immersive sound, urging spectators to gather clues on what crossing the desert implies.

  • The film manifests a profound respect for nature, a perspective which accompanies its profound humanity. The choice to record the place on 16mm film is itself a political act, a recognition of the fundamental characteristic of the material, which must in some way be subject to nature, and rejection of the digital, which unattached from nature always subjugates it.

  • The project is collaborative on every level: Bonnetta and Sniadecki worked together on the audio—a haunting collage of borderland soundscapes and interviews with inhabitants and migrants—and wandering visuals. The grainy images captured on 16 mm project those images into a distant past, yet the living testimonies of those who have witnessed the death and desperation—their voices often isolated in the resounding darkness of a black screen—demonstrate how burningly present the subject is.

  • The final section strikes me as the moment where the film makes its most direct contact with the vernacular of the avant-garde. We see four shots of the empty landscape, this time in black and white. The film grain is dense and swirling and we can see that a storm is brewing. A sudden turn to the poetic following what has thus far been a very direct, materialist film, Part 3 is accompanied on the soundtrack by a reading that consists of portions of various poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

  • It’s one of the strongest films yet to emerge from SEL, and, perhaps more interestingly, an inadvertent and unsettlingly topical portrait of the American southwest... Much of the film transpires under cover of darkness, with only headlights on the horizon, or the moonlight over distant mountains, creating stunning chiaroscuro compositions as barely discernible figures move across the far reaches of the frame.

  • Many of the films coming out of the Sensory Ethnography Lab are taking Werner Herzog's famous concept of “ecstatic truth” in documentaries as far as possible, but El Mar La Mar is arguably one of the few to make that ecstasy transcendent and ennobling in the way it inspires, through pure aesthetics, the kind of humane empathy that we could all use some more of these days.

  • Through its awe-inspiring 16mm imagery and first-person accounts from people on both sides of the border, El mar la mar effects a powerful conflation of the mythical and the geopolitical... It’s remarkable how much urgency Sniadecki and Bonetta are able to generate through such detachment, demonstrating that an avant-garde aesthetic has the potential of illuminating current affairs with much more force and lucidity than the wrenching tactics conventionally employed in documentaries.

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