Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Big River Man - documentary of the year?

I will say, RIGHT NOW, that Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of my favorite films of the year. But I watch a documentary that caught my attention when it was playing at the IFC Center last year that I finally got to see on dvd. It's called Big River Man and IT.IS.INCREDIBLE!
This real life tale is about Martin Strell, the national hero of Slovenia and swimmer extrodinaire. And drunk driver. And, this last fact is pointed out, numerous times, by his son. Now his son is the narrator film and Martin's conscience (I believe). He explains Martin's behavior and try to explain the demons that drive Martin. And they drive him down RIVERS! As in HE SWIMS THE LENGTHS OF THE RIVERS OF THE WORLD! AND HE'S 53!!
They have footage of him swimming the Yangtze River, which happens to be the most polluted river in the world. To prove this, the video shows a body floating down the river. Chilling. It is said that Martin had to have his BLOOD washed daily. Insane.
And the insanity doesn't stop there. As Martin declares that he needs to swim the Amazon, he prepares so little for this arduous task that one almost thinks it's an elaborate prank (see Banksy). But no, he's just driven to heights that would cost most their life or (at the very least) their sanity. And, by the end of the film, it may have cost our protagonist his very mind.
For some unexplained reason, Martin only trust two men on this journey: his son, Borut, and Matt, a Wisconsin Wal-Mart employee (???). The day they take off, Matt is JUST learning to use a GPS, which will prevent them from getting off course on the Amazon.
I won't reveal all, but it's clear that some on this journey do their best Dennis Hopper impersonation from 'Apocolypse Now'. Some villagers great him at the river banks like a hero, some treat him as the harbinger of doom. Martin feels no need for nutrition or hydration. He won't stop swimming, even with Second Degree Burns (Borut compares his skin to beef jerky).
Finally, when one is dealing with utter exhaustion and mental retreat, maybe it's unwise to bring in the hotel priest and his hand puppets?

How Werner Herzog was not on this trip???

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