Big River Man

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Review byMatthew Turner3/09/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Thoroughly engaging and genuinely fascinating documentary that's by turns hilarious, awe-inspiring, disturbing and deeply moving.

What's it all about?
Directed by John Maringouin and narrated by the subject's son Borut (no relation to Borat), Big River Man follows the extraordinary story of eccentric Slovenian Martin Strel, who has made it his life's ambition to swim the world's rivers in order to draw attention to world pollution. Having already swum the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze, the film joins Martin as he prepares to swim the Amazon, all 4,000 plus kilometres of it.

Incredibly, it takes almost 70 days, during which Martin essentially goes insane, in proper Heart of Darkness fashion. He's not the only one - their American navigator Matt cracks up right alongside him and has a severe attack of the Timothy Treadwells (see Grizzly Man), while Martin also faces severe health problems and extreme sunburn, not to mention the presence of crocodiles, piranhas and the dreaded candiru fish.

The Good
This is a film of which Werner Herzog would most definitely approve - in fact, one might almost call it Herzogian in its study of obsession and insanity. It's frankly astonishing that Martin is allowed to continue - his face being fried by sunburn early on is bad enough, but by day 50 it's a miracle he's still alive.

Borut's narration is extremely engaging, whilst Martin himself is a fascinating character, not least because he hardly ever speaks – his English is terrible, but he doesn't seem very chatty in Slovenian either. There are, not surprisingly, some extraordinary scenes and you also get some moving details that shed light on the root of Martin's obsession (the story of his first endurance swim speaks volumes, for example).

The Great
The film is extremely funny in the earlier scenes (Martin and Borut's shared love of horse burgers could have come from Borat), but it gets more and more disturbing as it goes on, before climaxing in a delightfully surreal moment that it would be churlish to reveal here.

Worth seeing?
Big River Man is a strange, moving and unforgettable film. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 15/12/2018 12:01

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