How entertaining can it be to watch someone stranded at sea or in some remote place? That is what I used to question about survivalist thrillers.
But movies like “Life of Pi”, “The Revenant”, “Cast Away” and the TV series “Keep Breathing” not only held the answer, they schooled me on the art of storytelling.
And, of course, I was corrected about my misconception.
There are so many other elements that are explored in such doom-and-gloom scenarios, where the adrenalin kicks in and the main character shifts into survival mode.
There’s also a lot of deep self-reflection. And the storyline is so emotionally charged that you feel every bit of despair, the glimmer of hope, the meltdown and the courage.
By tapping into the raw human emotions and psychological trauma, the film-makers ensure the viewer becomes invested in the character and their journey.
If you haven’t watched “Nowhere”, do yourself a favour and do so. I should warn you though that it will leave you moist-eyed for most of the film.
At the heart of the film, which is directed by Albert Pintó, is a heavily pregnant Mia (Anna Castillo) and her husband Nico (Tamar Novas).
They decide to flee a war-torn Spain after the death of their first-born daughter, Uma, by escaping to Ireland on a cargo ship. They spend everything they have for safe passage but during transit, the two get separated.
And their troubles worsen when Mia’s transportation is stopped by the authorities on its way to the ship. The fellow refugees in the container are found and executed on the spot while a quick-thinking Mia, who hid when they were stopped, is saved from the same fate.
The container eventually makes its way onto the ship. Despite being alone, Mia holds out hope of being reunited with Nico.
During a stormy night at sea, the container Mia is in is one of several that fall over into the ocean.
Her loud cries for help are drowned out by the storm as well as the screams from other containers carrying refugees.
Mia finds herself lost at sea with barely any food or drinking water. As such, she gathers her wits about her and looks at ways in which she can survive until she is rescued.
The cargo in the container is filled with Tupperware, hoodies, flat-screen TVs and alcohol. And she gathers the leftover belongings of the deceased refugees. These include a useful penknife, a drill, tape, some food and drink rations and a phone (her phone was smashed during the storm).
To ensure the container, which is riddled with bullet holes remains buoyant, she gets creative by plugging some of the holes with the rubber from the Tupperware. She also does an assessment of the water levels and marks the danger point.
Not long after she is stranded, she gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, Noa. And her instincts as a mother override everything. She finding inventive ways to fish to feed herself and to ensure her baby can breastfeed.
Throughout it all – and a few hairy situations when the sea became unforgiving – she tries to contact Nico. After many unsuccessful attempts, they connect albeit briefly.
This gives Mia some hope. And she works hard to find ways to keep going, even when she is exhausted and dehydrated, forced to drink seawater at one point.
When the water levels in the container start to rise, Mia uses the drill to cut an opening to the roof. And she starts making a contingency plan, which includes a floating raft for Noa.
Not long after, she cuts herself deeply while trying to flag down a passing aircraft. But despite being in pain, she does a makeshift mend and keeps going.
After around 20 days of being lost at sea, Mia’s hopes of being rescued are dashed when a gravely wounded Nico reaches out to say his final goodbye.
With the container taking in more water, Mia is left with no option but to float next to her makeshift raft to ensure Noa is safe but time is not on their side.
This story of a courageous mother trying to beat the odds is heart-rending but also inspiring.
Castillo is mesmerising with her nuanced performance. She carries the character’s pain, anxiety, bravery and determination with commendable gravitas.
The director also deserves credit for the dexterous way in which he handled the scenes by capturing the emotions and mental state of the protagonist and allowing that steer the storytelling.
“Nowhere” is a truly mesmerising film that tugs at the heartstrings.
∎ “Nowhere” is streaming on Netflix.