‘Marin des Montagnes’: Cannes Review | Comments

Director: Karim Ainouz. Brazil / France / Germany / Algeria. 2021. 98 minutes

Exile was a central theme in Karim Ainouz’s moving melodrama The invisible life of Euridice Gusmao (2019). It is also a key element of Mountain Sailor (Marinheiro das Montanhas), a very personal documentary essay in which Ainouz undertakes a first sentimental trip to Algeria. The trip gives him a better understanding of his family history and the history of his father’s homeland. A film that takes more and more emotion as it unfolds, it should succeed in navigating the festival circuit.

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The end effect is like tapping into the jumble of thoughts and emotions that Ainouz, 54, is going through.

Mountain sailor begins with an on-screen definition of “calentura”, a sort of delirium that is said to have struck sailors on long voyages in hot latitudes. There is something of that feverish dreamy quality about a documentary that mixes startlingly beautiful shots of people and places with dizzying swirls of abstract images, filters of deep red color, and random disgressions. The end effect is like plugging directly into the jumble of thoughts and emotions that Ainouz, 54, is going through.

Mountain sailor It also sounds like a lament for the director’s recently deceased mother, Iracema, who is an unseen companion on his travels. The extended voiceover is a letter to her as he speculates on the life she’s led and the questions he would have liked to ask her. Along the way, we learn that Iracema and Ainouz’s father, Majid, separated while she was pregnant. Ainouz grew up in Brazil, never knowing the father who had returned to Algeria to fight in the war of independence. An important part of Marine is a reflection on what could have been. What would have become of Ainouz if he had grown up in Algeria? Who would he be if a mother and father had been there for him? The prospect of alternate lives teases and haunts him, giving the film a melancholy quality.

The trip begins in January 2019 on an “old rusty tub of an Algerian ship” leaving for sea from Marseille. If you were with me, we would have taken the plane, he tells his mother. Ainouz captures all the trivialities of his journey on his digital camera, from unappetizing food to dark hallways below deck, the gentle rolling of the ship and the constant dripping of a faucet. The camera never leaves him and we only see what he observes.

In Algiers, he captures a vibrant sense of life in the streets, surrendering to the moment and following where fate takes him. He is constantly encountered by curious and welcoming individuals, from the street vendor Abdul to a trio of unemployed youth, a few shopkeepers and a collection of street typists filling out forms for people. His ultimate destination is Tagmut Azuz, the mountain village of Kabylia where his father was born. The prospect of meeting relatives and finding out that he might have a right to land there is an even more powerful reminder of the different path he might have taken.

Throughout the film, Ainouz gains a better understanding of the legacy that remains from the colonialist occupation of Algeria. Powerful black and white archival images reflect the oppression of the past. He also gives us other pieces of his parents’ story which he affectionately describes as “like a love affair with Audrey Hepburn and Jean-Paul Belmondo”. He emphasizes the point by playing ‘Moon River’ on the soundtrack.

A real voyage of discovery, Mountain sailor ultimately seduced by its skillful mix of personal and political and by the beauty of the images that Ainouz finds along the way.

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