'Crab Trap' soaks in the atmosphere
A silent stranger arrives in a desolate village. That’s about where film conventions end in the atmospheric “Crab Trap’’ (“El vuelco del cangrejo’’), the impressive debut from writer-director Oscar Ruiz Navia, whose film is part of the New Latin American Cinema series at the Museum of Fine Arts today through March 9.
“Crab Trap’’ is set in a Colombia that’s rarely seen on screen. Its mix of documentary and drama unfolds in the real-life coastal village of La Barra, where new and old worlds collide. The locals eke out an existence eating only rice since, we’re told, the village’s fishermen and fishing boats “haven’t come back.’’ The stranger, Daniel (Rodrigo Velez), wanders in from the nearby jungle with nothing but a backpack and an immediate desire to hire a boat to whisk him away.
Daniel meets the village elder, Cerebro (Arnobio Salazar Rivas), who puts him to work cleaning debris off the beach. Daniel’s moody encounters with Lucia (Yisela Alvarez), a likable preteen whose self-assurance manages occasionally to draw him out, and the lovely Jazmin (Karent Hinestroza), Cerebro’s niece and cook, are what pass, more or less, for plot. Also pursuing Jazmin is another white man, Paisa (Jaime Andres Castano), who claims to have the “papers’’ needed to build a resort on the beach and who alienates the villagers by blasting music from loudspeakers in what seems to be an attempt to drive them from the land.
Like Pedro González-Rubio’s recent “Alamar,’’ which also used non-actors in a naturalistic setting, the sparse dialogue and narrative restraint give “Crab Trap’’ a more mythic than political tone. Despite the glimpses of ongoing strife in Colombia that we see and hear in news reports that play on televisions in villagers’ huts, Navia is less interested in a conventional story line than in the small moments that connect the characters to the landscape.
There are some exquisite moments in the film: Daniel drifting in a boat against the gray sea and sky, children darting into the frame as they chase each other through the lush jungle, Daniel setting fire to a sculpture of trash on the beach. It doesn’t much matter that we don’t find out what Daniel is seeking or fleeing — there’s a photograph of a woman in his knapsack, and he’s tight-lipped enough to be suspected of having a secret — or whether Paisa will build his hotel. The dreamlike atmosphere of “Crab Trap’’ allows the landscape to seep into the mind as it documents the purity of a way of life, perhaps before it disappears.
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.