Big River Man John Maringouin

Big River Man John Maringouin
Many people have compared Big River Man — a documentary about Martin Strel, the Slovenian endurance swimmer that treks through polluted bodies of water for environmental awareness — to the works of Werner Herzog. It's an apt association, as the tragic self-destructive insanity and delusion of the central character borders on comedy and satire in an awkward and incisive manner, but Maringouin is too aware of political associations and environmental plights to delve entirely into this territory, coming off as Herzog-lite. This isn't a bad thing, as simply copying someone else doesn't necessarily equate success or skill. Here, it may even be considered of benefit, as the acknowledgement of eco-crisis occasionally removes the audience from the disturbing implication of Strel's quest to swim down the Amazon. In understanding his abusive childhood and tendency towards alcoholism, when not selling out for any media-related event he can get his hands on, there is an overwhelming tragedy in watching this man, with no self-worth, destroy his body and mind for the fleeting acceptance of the very peers he fears due to social anxieties. We watch him get infections, severely sunburned, dehydrated and gradually submit to his own delusions, taking off for dangerous night swims and wandering naked in the middle of nowhere. Maringouin's tendency to step back occasionally from these erratic goings on, sharing past anecdotes along with external media and political acknowledgements, balances this unsettling material, keeping it from delving too far into dark, discomforting mockery. There is also the benefit of framing the trip through the eyes of Strel's son, Borut, who seems aware of his father's masochistic sensibilities while simultaneously idealizing and disapproving of his single-minded persistence. It provides a humanizing framework within the surrealist detailing of something seemingly too strange to be true. Unfortunately, the DVD comes with no special features whatsoever, letting the documentary speak for itself. (Mongrel Media)