Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Big River Man

Martin Strel aka Big River Man, is a larger-than-life character who fully justifies a documentary. He's overweight and his consumption of alcohol is phenomenal. He's world famous in Slovenia, and moderately famous world-wide for his endurance swims of some of the world's longest rivers - the Danube, the Mississippi , the Yangtze and the Amazon. Big River Man the movie documents his Amazon swim in 2007 and the buildup to it. It's told from the point of view of his son Borut, whose practical amd moral support for his Father is a worthwhile story its own right.

Big River Man gives you satisfying insights into what drives Martin. Officially, he wants to draw attention to the state of the world's rivers, and in the case of the Amazon to the plundering of the rainforest that it runs through. This cause is genuinely close to his heart but you also come to see that swimming is a way of exorcising his demons and it has a therapeutic but also a traumatic effect on him.

As a child, Martin was beaten by his Father and Borut says that this has given him the great tolerance for pain that endurance swimming requires. There was also a formative childhood experience when Martin escaped a beating by jumping in the river on the farm where he lived. His father stood on the bank and waited for him to emerge so he swam downstream and his father followed on land. He kept swimming until his Father gave up and went home - and thus escaped a beating that day. So water came to represent a protective medium which he enjoys to this day.

The Amazon swim tests Martin's physical and mental endurance and nearly costs him his life and his sanity. He is both mad and a physical wreck by the end of the swim but Borut takes the attitude of "a man's got to do what a man's got to do" and is there for him all the way.

The scenery is great but its really the human endeavours that you go this film for - watching Martin push himself that hard and watching Borut and the team give him unstinting support despite the effect that it has on them personally is truly inspirational.

Anne's rating 4/5

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