Pastoral Catastrophe: The Stone Raft

Most disaster/catastrophe movies are action-filled, special effects extravaganzas.  The Stone Raft is not one of them.

Rather, it's a very human story, based on the novel by Jose' Saramago.  Even the disaster is well-behaved: When the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, breaks off the European continent and begins drifting out into the Atlantic Ocean, one might expect massive earthquakes and tremors to result.  Nope; it's smooth sailing, with two caveats: 1) The peninsula-turned-island is speeding up, and 2) it's on a collision course with the Azores.

That's the Big Weird of the story.  The human side involves five seemingly random people (and a dog) who've had Small Weirds happen to them at the same time the Big Split began.  There's a stick, a stone, a flock of birds, and a ball of yarn involved somehow.  The five people come together, wondering whether the small magic that's happened in their personal lives is related to the big magic that's affected the lives of millions.  They decide to travel to the Pyrenees mountains, where the rift began.

We see snippets, from television news and other sources, of elsewhere in Iberia, where there are riots, lootings, and attempts at evacuation; what one might expect from a standard disaster movie.  But the focus characters encounter little of that in their picareque travels across the countryside.  The focus in on their humanity, their coming together, their (almost) breakup, and their final success in reaching the rift and what occurs afterward.

This is clearly in the genre of Magic Realism, where character is paramount, rather than spectacle.   Saramago's best-known novel, Blindness, is another example where a Big Weird happens, and the focus is close in on the characters dealing with it.

I liked the movie quite a lot.  It reminded me of the New Zealand film The Quiet Earth, so if you liked TQE, you'll probably like The Stone Raft.  You might also try Saramago's novels, or, for a somewhat similar feeling from an American author, Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

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