September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

The Raft

(2018) 102 min. In English, Swedish, French, Italian, Japanese, German & Spanish w/English subtitles. DVD: $19.95. Kino Lorber (avail from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

In 1973, Mexican social anthropologist Santiago Genovés designed an experiment to study human behavior in a closed and somewhat dangerous environment. Along with 10 subjects—six women, four other men, all drawn from a multitude of nationalities—Genovés set sail onboard a motor-less raft christened the Acali for a three-month journey across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Mexico. All of the voyagers were attractive, women were assigned the more powerful positions (including the captain, Maria Björnstam), and a seemingly oddball rule prohibited books. The reason for these choices was simple: Genovés was trying to create conditions that would generate boredom, spark sexual jealousy, and possibly lead to violent conflict—teaching moments that would supposedly light a path to world peace. With his pen poised over his notebook, Genovés sat back and eagerly waited for the interpersonal fireworks to begin. Almost two months after setting sail, he was still waiting. Disappointed and increasingly despondent, Genovés began a course of active manipulation, including having participants read aloud private questionnaires that featured queries such as who was most annoying. Swedish filmmaker Marcus Lindeen’s The Raft tells the fascinating tale of this strange expedition, mixing archival 16mm footage from the trip, voiceover entries from Genovés’s journal, interviews of the seven surviving crew members (six women, one man), and re-enactments with the same on a built-to-scale replica of the Acali in a darkened studio (in scenes that resemble a theatrical play). The interviewees share stories that are both deeply moving (Fé Seymour, an African-American woman, recalls hearing the voices of her slave ancestors late at night coming up from the ocean depths) and funny (Genovés insisted on trying to fix a broken rudder himself, even though one woman, Servane Zanotti, was a scuba diver—the former flailed and failed, while the latter quickly and quietly made the fix the following morning). Ultimately it would become apparent to the experiment’s subjects that the only person who was truly dangerous on the raft was the social scientist himself. Lindeen has created a thought-provoking, entertaining documentary that looks at gender politics, human unpredictability, and one man’s quixotic quest. Extras include a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and a booklet with an essay by Lindeen. Highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)