The Raft

 

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A highly rewarding and unusual work of wider appeal than many documentaries.
 

 

Very few films can match the sheer originality to be found in this remarkable work from the Swedish director Marcus Lindeen. Its unique appeal derives from the fact that it intrigues on three levels simultaneously. First of all there’s the curious nature of the event which is central to it. In 1973 Santiago Genovés, a Mexican anthropologist, advertised for volunteers to participate in a scientific experiment which involved ten people sailing with him on a specially constructed raft on a voyage from the Canary Islands to Mexico, a trip which in the event took 101 days. Genovés claimed boastfully that, by observing these people isolated from all outside contact and deprived of any privacy, he would be carrying out research aimed at finding a way to create peace on earth. What he was actually doing  was to study human aggression in the expectation that his crew members, chosen in part for being sexually attractive, would through jealousies and tensions yield to violence, thus proving that such a tendency is inherent in human nature even if buried.

  

The Raft

 

As for making a film looking back on this strange enterprise, two advantages became apparent: first, Genovés’s own diaries and books that he later wrote about the project enabled his own words to be used in voice over and, secondly, eight hours of film shot by Genovés at the time were found by Lindeen in a television archive. Add that seven of those selected to take part were still alive and willing to look back on how the voyage had affected them and you have rich possibilities. Of those chosen six were women and four men and Genovés, in addition to picking a woman as captain, deliberately gave the females the more important duties to see how the males would react. Intriguing too is the fact that what was done all those years ago seems to pre-echo today’s reality TV including such programmes such as Love Island

 

Lindeen’s film is not without minor drawbacks. The 16mm footage from 1973 is inevitably not top quality and, while making effective use of a modern replica of the raft, Lindeen does on occasion over-dramatise and often favours a strident music score. But these are minor quibbles when the material is so strong given what I described as its three levels. The second of these stems from the way in which we discover in time how the survivors now regard an experience which overall could have marked them either positively or negatively. The third lies in the fact that, although not anticipated for a moment by Genovés himself, the trip would expose and test his own character more than that of any of the others on board. Genovés, who died in 2013, may have seen himself as a scientist yet he would resort to provocations out of keeping with observing objectively. Thus The Raft becomes a fascinating  character study of a deeply flawed man despite the fact that it is the women who dominate the screen.                  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Maria Björnstam, Fé Seymour, Eisuke Yamaki, Mary Gidley, Edna Reves, Rachida Lièvre, Servane Zanotti and the voice of Daniel Giménez Cacho (narrator). 

 

Dir Marcus Lindeen, Pro Erik Gandini, Screenplay Marcus Lindeen, based on the writings of Santiago Genovés, Ph Måns Månsson, Pro Des Simone Grau Roney, Ed Alexandra Strauss and Dominika Daubenbüchel, Music Hans Appelqvist

 

Fasad/Bullitt Film/Film i Väst/Sveriges Television/Sutor Kolonko/Motto Pictures-Modern Films.
98 mins. Sweden/Denmark/USA/Finland/Norway/The Netherlands. 2018. Rel: 18 January 2019. Cert. 12A.