On Sentimentality: Catching Up With Alamar
I’m a few years late on this, but I finally got a chance to view Pedro González-Rubio’s Alamar. Part of the reason I’m so late is that I read the logline, “Before their inevitable farewell, a young man of Mayan roots and Natan, his half Italian son, embark on an epic journey into the open sea.” A father-son relationship that involves the sea and an “epic journey” always makes me wary. The entire project reeked to me of sentimentality, which I tend to despise. To explain my distaste, I defer to James Baldwin, who wrote:
“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.”
Now, I would not go so far as to accuse Alamar of a violent inhumanity, but it is excessively sentimental. The relationship between the father and his son is a healthy one, but it is depicted in such a manner that one almost wishes something bad would happen so as to break this spell. This is mirrored in the movie’s reliance on postcard shots. Set in a breathtakingly beautiful part of Mexico, I had to ask: What work is the film doing? How much of the aesthetic labor is being done by the land and sea? It is beautiful, yes, but in the way that an unopened coffee table book by Ansel Adams promises to be - most of the work has already been done. It affirms the way we feel when we dream of the pristine, both in nature and in our relationships. It may be comforting, but it still feels false.