Venice Sala: Zumiriki

Thoughtful documentary Zumiriki poses big questions

We may be familiar with the ‘Walden’ narrative of someone stepping outside of human civilisation to get in touch with nature and live simply, but director Oskar Alegria has something else in mind. While he is clearly interested in being one with nature and the self-reliant existence, he poses a question early on that he quietly explores throughout the thoughtful documentary: Is it possible to travel twice to the same memory?

Zumiriki sees Alegria build a cabin on an isolated river bank opposite a small island that he played on as a child. In much the same way that our memories become fainter as we grow older and the world changes around us, this island has disappeared underwater after the construction of a dam. This “invisible” island can be spotted by the trees that still stand out from the water, described by the filmmaker as “masts of a broken toy”.

As you would expect, the director’s philosophical journey is subject to what fate throws his way during the filming of the documentary. What he injects into the proceedings is a clear love for the Basque Country, its history and its people. In the most effective and inventive segment of the documentary, he reconstructs missing sound from the oldest footage taken in the region with the help of the voices of its older inhabitants, recreating the scene through memory. 

The film is not without its fair share of miraculous moments, with certain wildlife encounters speaking volumes in their silence. Yet these moments come few and far between, suggesting that a tighter cut of the film would have perhaps been less testing, with just as much to say about the nature of time, memory and history.

These faults shouldn’t take away from the poetry of the documentary, which could have easily been an exercise in self-indulgence in someone else’s hands. Alegria approaches his chosen study with openness and pragmatism, rarely letting his philosophical wanderings go unchecked by his sharp sense of humour. While Zumiriki takes its time getting to its conclusion, the surreal and heartfelt place he takes us to is worth the journey.

Jack Godwin

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

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