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Short Take: The Raft

(Marcus Lindeen, Sweden/Denmark/USA/Germany, Metrograph Pictures, Opening June 7)

In 1973, the Mexican-Spanish anthropologist Santiago Genovés recruited five men and six women to embark on a 101- day journey across the Atlantic on a ramshackle raft he christened The Acali. He wanted to study the nature of human violence, sexuality, and gender relations, choosing people from a range of racial, social, and religious backgrounds in order to create a “microcosm of the world.” Unbound from their daily lives and relationships, the men and women cultivated their own alternative community at sea.

More than 40 years on, Marcus Lindeen brings the seven surviving participants of the bizarre social experiment back together. On a wooden scale replica of the raft, they reminisce about the bonds they formed on the three-month journey and collectively condemn the gratuitous and exploitative behavior of their self-declared leader, Santiago. Lindeen richly intersperses these staged interviews with archival footage filmed during the journey, as the documentary itself becomes an experiment in memory-making and revelation.

The Raft leans more heavily upon the perspectives of certain individuals, eschewing almost entirely the narratives of those who have passed away—except for Santiago, who is reincarnated by the voice of Daniel Giménez Cacho reading the professor’s diaries from the trip. The film’s portrait frequently feels incomplete, yet simultaneously allows for spontaneous moments of poignancy to emerge, most enduringly in the central subject of Fé Seymour, whose measured memorializing and uncompromising resilience carries the film and holds nostalgia at bay.

Naomi Keenan O’Shea is an Irish writer currently based in Brooklyn. She studied Film and English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.