El Mar La Mar

 

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Experimental cinema at its most worthwhile.

 

El Nar La Mar

 

Joshua Bonnetta is an interdisciplinary artist who chose here to work with the visual anthropologist and filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki and, as the credits below confirm, no film can more aptly be described as being a work made by the people who conceived it. El Mar La Mar is, in fact an extraordinary piece of utter originality, one that functions on two distinct but related levels.

 

Despite the fact that the title refers to the sea, this is a portrait of the Sonoran Desert, the area crossed by those from Mexico who for sanctuary are seeking unauthorised entry into America. Bonnetta and Sniadecki shot their film over some years before it premiered in 2017 but its social issues have, as we all know, become even more acute in the time that has elapsed since then. The style of the filmmaking is unorthodox and the film demands an audience ready to accept an experimental approach, but its humane concerns are always apparent and tackling this subject matter gives the film weight quite apart from its experimentation.

 

Even so, it would appear to be the case that it was other aspects that led to Bonnetta and Sniadecki making El Mar La Mar (the title seemingly invites us to compare the desert crossing with the hazards faced by other immigrants traversing the Mediterranean). Their initial project was of another kind and they were deflected by the impact of the Super 16mm images that the Sonoran Desert provided. This visual appeal then led to a film about the place and the people be they inhabiting it or passing through - and this notwithstanding the fact that these people are barely seen on screen. Instead, this is a film of voice-overs and one that frequently explores the impact consequent on creating a collage in which atmospheric landscape shots are placed side by side with these voices more often than not heard against a black screen. The visuals are finely judged and enhanced by a controlled use of music and by astute handling of natural sounds (the one surprise is the inclusion on the soundtrack of Peggy Lee singing the title song from the film Johnny Guitar that was shot in this very area). The two sides of the film come together when the shots of the area are seen to contain traces of those who have passed through, bags of water to help others or items now without an owner such as a pair of spectacles left behind.

 

Nominally, El Mar La Mar is in three named sections, but the first of these is very short and has been described by Sniadecki as a kind of Overture as we move from scratched film stock to images that gradually become clearer. But it is the second section, the major part of the film in fact, that brings in the contrast between voices and images and asks us to ponder both the world of man and the world of nature. What we hear is often grim but, while the images remind us that nature can be beautiful, El Mar La Mar is aware of its dark side too. The short final segment (Tormenta) introduces a poem in contrast to the earlier words that we have heard. But, if an affirmation of light is referred to, visually the film ends in monochrome as a storm plays out in a scene of desolation that therefore leaves interpretation open. This is without doubt a demanding film but, if some sequences are less telling (including a long one at night with flashlights that may indicate the presence of an unseen patrol), this is a stunningly adventurous work, a challenge that deserves to be taken up.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  the voices of Catalina Pereda and Marcela Rodriguez.

 
Dir Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki, Pro Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki, Ph Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki, Ed Joshua Bonnetta and J.P.Sniadecki, Pro Des Joshua Bonnetta and J.P.Sniadecki.

 

Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki Film-ICA Cinema.
96 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 3 August 2018. No Cert .