"Complex Times Call for Complex Heros"
A couple of gems notwithstanding, the last 20 or so documentaries I've sat through have left me feeling like the genre had been played out a little. Then along came Big River Man, a film that everyone should watch immediately, if not sooner because they don't get much better than this. This is a jangling, rough-around-the-edges near-masterpiece, rewardingly bizarre and completely riveting. The cinematography alone is worth the effort but what makes this one great is its subject: Slovenian endurance swimming Martin Strel. The best writers couldn't conjure up a more unusual and colourful character.
The story starts off lightly, introducing us to this flamboyant nutjob who seems a nearly perfect amalgam of the Homer Simpson, Leonid Brezhnev and Aquaman. He drinks two bottle of wine a day, is 52 years old and has the physique of Pavarotti. The film follows his crazy attempt to swim the length of the Amazon river. The final half of the film turns darker as Strel's physical and mental deterioration gives the film a Joseph Conrad quality and it remains uncertain where this long, winding journey might end.
While a little over-narrated and a lot over-scored, Big River Man is never less than completely engaging. At the heart of the story is an environmental message that finds its voice in the quirky and slightly mad undertakings of an offbeat, real-life, pissed superhero.
Great stuff and an easy recommendation to almost anyone.