Big River Man

"Excellent"

Big River Man Review


Director Maringouin says he set out to make a documentary with an environmental message, "but that message got eclipsed by insanity." This is one of the most entertaining, riveting docs you'll ever see.

At age 53, Martin Strel decided to swim the length of the Amazon, eclipsing the world record he already held for swimming the Yangtze (he previously conquered the Danube and Mississippi). In his home in Ljubljana, Martin starts training with the help of his son Borut, who's also his publicist and who narrates this film. After months of preparation, they head to the launch point in Peru, but over the next 66 days, Martin's obsessive personality and stubborn alcoholism create challenges even greater than the river itself.

At first, the dangers of this stunt seem obvious: crocodiles, piranhas, insects and those evil candiru fish. These are on the Strels' minds during the film's pre-swim section in Slovenia, where Martin is a national hero immune to drunk-driving laws. You could never invent a character like Martin. Before his fame, he taught flamenco guitar (cue the Deliverance theme) and earned a living as a professional gambler. He continually laughs at everything, has a mounted piranha on top of his TV and uses a secret government cave for endurance training.

The details go on and on, and it becomes clear that Maringouin had to leave out quite a bit. But what's here is so hilariously random and absurd that it wins us over long before Martin jumps into the Amazon, refusing to rehydrate himself while chugging on hard liquor. And the film takes on an almost thriller-like tone, as Borut tries to help his father survive the increasingly surreal swim, during which their navigator Mohlke also seems to lose his mind.

All of this is artfully shot and edited by Maringouin and his crew, who remarkably are never caught on camera. In many ways, it feels more narrative than documentary, with a spectacularly lush setting that adds to the increasingly hallucinatory story. And the people on screen are all vividly engaging. All of this makes the film outrageously gripping, often very funny and unnerving as we wonder what could possibly happen next. Yes, there is a strong environmental message, but the real story is about the tenacity of the human spirit.



Big River Man

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 16th January 2009

Distributed by: Revolver Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 28 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: John Maringouin

Producer: , Molly Hassell, Molly Lynch, John Maringouin, Roger M Mayer, Kevin Ragsdale

Starring: Martin Strel as Himself, Matthew Mohlke as Himself, Borut Strel as Himself

Also starring:

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