The last 10 minutes of Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki's El Mar La Mar observe some distant hills, a plain and an approaching storm. The black and white photography emphasizes the gray weight of the clouds and the far-off lashes of rain. On occasion, one static shot cuts to another, the camera now some undetermined distance from the previous vantage point, but the effect overall is of stillness, of isolate observation, of surrendering yourself to land and sky. A study of the Sonoran hinterlands on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, El Mar La Mar is the rare film to subordinate its form to the landscape it's set in -- to watch it attentively is to surrender, for 90 minutes, to the slow-motion pace of Sonoran life.
Nothing here is hurried, but it does fascinate. Outside of that ending, and some passages of blackout darkness that accompany the testimony of people who live in or have passed through the region, El Mar La Mar unfolds in rich color. Bonnetta and Sniadecki's Sonora continually reveals itself as something more wild, dangerous and beautiful than you might have expected. The few voices in the film describe the mystery and terror of desert life. A sequence of the scrub at night, lit only by flashlights, stirs helpless horror, a sense of the pitiless vastness of creation.