El Mar La Mar (2017| Berlinale Forum | special mention
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 seascape seen 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 back travellers and immigrants making their way from Mexico who are unprepared for the horrors that await them: snakes, insects, fierce climatic changes and spiky vegetation are some of the perils of this extremely 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 fire 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 better life. MT
BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | FORUM SECTION