Big River Man (DVD)

Making a splash

On the face of it, John Maringouin’s film following Slovenian endurance swimmer Martin Strel’s attempt to swim the Amazon River is a straightforward documentary, combining interviews with Strel and his team along with footage of him training and his past triumphs. Yet as the film progresses you realise that this is part doc, part art installation and part experimenta, with dreamlike sequences and mesmeric narration weaving through the footage; some of it seemingly staged. As you get to know the hulking figure at the centre of the film, you begin to understand why Maringouin has taken this approach.

For Strel is no ordinary athlete; in his mid-50s and extremely overweight, his training regime is as much about imbibing huge quantities of alcohol and red meat as it is about hitting the water. But that hasn’t stopped him from swimming the entire length of the Mississippi and the Yangtze; indeed, his unique approach to his fitness seems to work for him.¬†That is, we see, until Strel begin to actually swim the Amazon. Soon fatigue and high blood pressure begin to threaten not just physical health, but also his mental state.

Strel s a colourful character to say the least, and Maringouin has done well to capture and celebrate the joyful oddities of his subject. In doing so, however, he has perhaps muddied the waters; as neither fully fledged documentary nor a piece of fiction, it is often a jumble of facts and ideas, so it becomes hard to get a grip on Strel as a man and those who surround him. But a Strel descends into paranoia and hysteria, perhaps that’s precisely the point. As a piece of entertainment, and as a tribute to the achievements of this extraordinary individual, it’s a riot.

4 stars

Features Martin Strel, Borut Strel
Director John Maringouin
Distributor Revolver
Format DVD
Released January 18