February 27, 2018
El Mar La Mar
(Dir. Joshua Bonnetta & J.P. Sniadecki, 2017)
Co-presented by MUBI!
251 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Shot over several years in the Sonoran Desert near the US/Mexico border, Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s intensely complex and transcendent El mar la mar weaves together oral histories of desert border stories with hand-processed, grainy 16mm images of the flora, fauna and those who trespass the mysterious terrain, riddled with items its travelers have left behind. A sonically rich soundtrack adds another, sometimes eerie, dimension; the call of birds and other nocturnal noises invisibly populate the austere landscape.
Over a black screen, people speak of their intense, mythic experiences in the desert: A man tells of a fifteen-foot-tall monster said to haunt the region, while a border patrolman spins a similarly bizarre tale of man versus beast. The majority of El mar la mar occurs in darkness—often with only traces of light outlining the figures moving in the night—leaving exposed the sharp edges of a fatally inscribed line. Emerging from the ethos of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Sniadecki’s attentive documentary approach conspires supernaturally with Bonnetta’s meditations on the materiality of film. Their stunning collaboration is a mystical, folktale-like atmosphere dense with the remains of desire, memories and ghosts. -David Pendleton, Harvard Film Archive
A kaleidoscopic film, piecing together evidence of many different journeys, building an image of the Sonoran desert as a concrete and unforgiving environment rather than an ideological battleground.
- Irina Trocan, photogénie
Together with Joshua Bonnetta, [Sniadecki] is doing more than just about any other young contemporary filmmaker to reconceive the documentary.
- Travis Jeppesen, Artforum
El mar la mar is arguably one of the few [films] to make ecstasy transcendent and ennobling in the way it inspires, through pure aesthetics, the kind of humane empathy that we could all use some more of these days.
- Kenji Fujishima, The House Next Door
Bonnetta and Sniadecki’s work not only intervenes on [the US/Mexico border on a] thematic level, it is also an invigorating experiment in film form. Just as much as Kaurismaki, Gray or Peck, the filmmakers point the way forward for cinema to be not just worthy, but great.
- Daniel Fairfax, Senses of Cinema
The film manifests a profound respect for nature, a perspective which accompanies its profound humanity. The choice to record the place on 16mm film is itself a political act, a recognition of the fundamental characteristic of the material, which must in some way be subject to nature, and rejection of the digital, which unattached from nature always subjugates it.
- Yaron Dahan, MUBI Notebook
(Available to download after screening date)