Just as experiential as “Wadley,” his debut feature about a peyote desert hunt, Matias Meyer’s “The Cramp” helpfully adds more human elements to this meditative adventure of a young Frenchman in a sleepy beach town in Oaxaca. Result is not just a purely formal exercise but a fully achieved film, one that should connect with anyone who’s vagabonded far from home. Pic should propel Meyer toward greater fest exposure while drawing the eyes of brave distribs.
Arriving on a shore by motorboat, Julien (Julien Cottereau) wordlessly wanders about the gorgeous beachside enclave of Chacahua on Oaxaca’s seldom-filmed Pacific coast. For the first 19 minutes, scene after scene accumulates into a beautiful and mesmerizing mosaic in which a restless white guy looks out of sorts and distinctly “other” in a tight-knit but friendly Mexican community.
A jump-cut introduces sociable fisherman Pablo (Pablo Lopez), working out some way of chatting with Julien over food and lots of cervezas. (The effect is close to that of an artist hijacking one of those sleepy Corona beer commercials for his own ends.) They stumble through English, but Pablo is more at ease with Spanish, which Julien barely knows; the visitor linguistically cedes to his host, and a friendship is born.
The Cramp” proceeds as a miniature saga of this friendship, which is also something of a business relationship. Pablo is viewed oyster-diving without breathing apparatus, and Julien willingly pays him to show him around the area. The pair venture through caves and hidden beaches, and memorably to a lagoon, where they both cover themselves in mud. Julien’s profession is hinted at in this scene and later revealed in a terrifically satisfying payoff before what looks like a local crowd.
Meyer finds a balance here between his fascination with the aural and visual excitements of nature (Isabel Acevedo’s sound recording and Alejandro de Icaza’s sound editing are hugely supportive elements, topped by Galo Duran’s fantastic ambient music) and his interest in the people in front of his questing, curious camera. Play of all sorts is the film’s operative obsession, including the play of light that d.p. Gerardo Barroso invests with dramatic energy.