Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Viewers looking for something fantastic but intelligent will be intrigued by The Stone Raft,
a wholly original Spanish-Portuguese-Dutch co-production derived from a fanciful novel about a
group of special people coping with a patently impossible geological upheaval. The optimistic
story has a refreshingly humanistic response to potential disaster and an unknown future. Not
many movies about cataclysmic events present a positive attitude toward the human race, which
automatically puts The Stone Raft in a class by itself.
Five people and a lost dog visited by unusual phenomena or abilities seem
connected to a bizarre geological event: The entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal)
separates from Europe and starts to move into the Atlantic Ocean. Pharmacist Pedro Orce
(Federico Luppi of Cronos and
Men With Guns) feels
tremors in the Earth
even though the peninsular movement doesn't show up on seismographs. Joaquím Sassa
(Diogo Infante) was observed throwing a heavy rock, which skipped hundreds of yards across
the ocean. Teacher José (Gabino Diego) is followed by a flock of starlings, no matter
where he goes. And Joana Carda (Ana Padrão)made a small crack in the ground that
cannot be erased. A dog named Fiel leads these odd misfits to María Gueveira
(Icíar Bollaín), a widowed farmer with her own inexplicable miracle to
ponder. The group undertakes an idealistic pilgrimage as Iberia continues to drift Westward,
leaving the Rock of Gibraltar behind.
The above synopsis doesn't begin to explain the appeal of The Stone Raft, a hefty slice
of magical realism that some web reviewers have damned as boring. Approached as a whimsical
conceit, it's no less intriguing than any other shaggy dog story. It has strong similarities
with Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds but opts for romance in place of horror thrills.
Besides its few scenes of geological fantasy, it also has little in common with the Science
Fiction cataclysms found in Andrew Marton's Crack in the World and Shiro Moritani's
The Submersion of Japan. The detachment of hundreds of thousands of square miles of
Europe is a relatively peaceful event that causes distress but ends up as more of a political
catalyst. Nobody knows why Iberia leaves a bit of English territory behind as it wanders
westward - will it form a new Atlantis? Are the Spanish and Portuguese nations going to reunite
with their New World brothers in South America?
The international repercussions are only lightly sketched as The Stone Raft quite
satisfactorily concentrates on its odd group of pilgrims. Director George Sluizer
(The Vanishing) and his co-writer Yvette Biro do an excellent job of making them
likeable and loveable adventurers. The non-exploitative adaptation of Nobel Prize winner
José Saramago's novel doesn't put the five through a post-disaster ordeal. Only
once do panicked villagers threaten the publicized Señor Orce as somehow being
responsible for the rift.
The Stone Raft instead uses its 'disaster' as a way of pulling the rug of complacency
out from under its kindly and resourceful heroes. Responding with positive human values, the
five discover love, form relationships free of monetary concerns and appreciate their lives
all the more. The film also does what a generation's worth of 'free love' movies couldn't, in
a plot thread in which the two women generously give themselves to the old pharmacist to
relieve his loneliness. There are moments when Joaquím considers leaving, but we in
the audience really care that the group stay together.
The Stone Raft has a deliberate pace and refuses to signal its purpose or offer
audiences an easy handle for its offbeat story, so it's no wonder that many reject it.
Good CGI effects sketch the various 'miracles' that remain, as Joana Carda says, as
unexplainable as why the Earth is a spinning globe orbiting a star in a limitless void.
Humans accept so many things on faith, there's no reason why we can't cope with an additional
mystery or two. Even better, the possible political significance of The Stone Raft
is left up for grabs - it's a fairy tale for grown-ups.
Image's Disc of 2002's The Stone Raft is a good presentation of a film virtually
unknown in America. The world of commercial filmmaking makes room for only a couple of hundred
easily marketed titles per year and is dominated by distributors who can afford global
marketing strategies. The handsomely transferred 1:85 image is not enhanced for 16:9
presentation, making it inconvenient to enlarge on a widescreen monitor without cutting off
the English subtitles. The audio is listed as Dolby Stereo.
The simple Spanish menus pose no drawback; what we miss is more information on the author
or the great actors in the film. A web search uncovered a wealth of material on author
José Saramago, but mostly in Spanish. The politically outspoken Saramago approves of
the adaptation and says one of the male characters was invented for the movie.
To get the international benefit of DVDs these days, one has to reach out. The business systems
mass cinema possible allow diversity but do not reward it. For the refreshingly different
and deserving The Stone Raft, all that English readers can find on the web so far are a few
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Stone Raft rates:
Video: Good but not 16:9 enhanced
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 8, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson