“Alma” is the second entry in French filmmaker Patrick Rouxel’s “Rainforest Trilogy” – the first was his 2009 Indonesian-based “Green.” This new film is set in the Brazil, where the local lumber and cattle industries have razed great expanses of rainforest to accommodate their respective trades.
Presented with no narration, “Alma” begins with an idyllic contemplation of the forest’s animal species – and this sequence is among the most stunning depictions of a complex ecosystem in a nature film. However, the arrival of bulldozers and chainsaws permanently disfigure the ecosystem, and an intentionally set fire kills off defenseless creatures. The film’s most horrifying moment finds a tortoise viewing the flames with a mournful gaze as it remains trapped by the surrounding inferno – its charred corpse is shown a few minutes later.
With nature harshly muscled aside by the industrial interlopers, sawmills reduce the once-mighty trees to planks while dairy farmers bring in rather sickly looking cows and their emaciated calves. At one emetic point, the hungry calves have their jaws roped shut while the dairy farmers help themselves to the cows’ milk. A nearby slaughterhouse becomes the final destination for most of the cattle while a rodeo further exploits the poor animals for the amusement of the newly arrived forest villagers.
Needless to say, this is an extremely depressing and provocative film, and some sensitive viewers will be extremely upset by the wanton cruelty and recklessness captured on camera. This is also one of the most strikingly filmed and crisply edited nonfiction film essays to come along in recent years, and Rouxel appears to be among the most talented ecologically-oriented filmmakers of today’s global cinema.