Monday, March 22, 2010

Big River Man - Martin Strel

Yesterday I went to see an interesting little film, Big River Man, about one of the most incredible Slovenians to ever live, Martin Strel, endurance swimmer. To date, Martin has swum the length of the Danube, the Mississippi, the Yangtze, and most recently the Amazon. And he has done this all after the age of 45.

I must warn you that, while the film has a fascinating subject, it is deeply deeply flawed. The basic construction of the film is choppy and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the main characters -- Martin and his son/trainer, Borut -- and instead of trying to work through that misunderstanding it decides to make a mockery of them and Slovenia and geez, almost anyone. There is almost no one in this film who doesn't come out looking like a bumbling idiot. The filmmakers asking/allowing Martin's (none too bright) son to narrate the film was also a big mistake, not only was Borut uncharismatic as a narrator, but frankly I have to say that unless a Slovenian person knows English really really well, their personalities just don't come through and they just sound robotic and well...Borat-y. I think the producers would have done well to hire a interpreter and let Martin and Borut speak Slovenian for most of the film, they probably would have talked more and said more interesting/coherent things. Most glaringly, there were such gaping narrative holes in the movie, that Strel himself would probably find it daunting to get across. That said, the reason why I still recommend Big River Man is because of the glorious images of what this story is simply about: Martin swimming.

The footage of him floating, gliding, stretching, and splashing himself down the Amazon in absolutely beautiful. While on dry land, his massive body (the result of bad food and hard drinking) moves ungracefully and somewhat aimlessly; in the water he is at home, the weight of the world -- his troubled past and uncertain future -- is lifted, and he is pure poetry, understandable in any language. Pick it up if you can, and let me know what you think!