' ' Cinema Romantico: The Cove

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cove

"The Cove" has all the elements of great fiction. A murderous conspiracy cover-up. Daring nighttime raids with the threat of arrest and even torture hovering over them. Haunting images of blood red water. A heroic, complex protagonist who is on the road to redemption as he assisted in bringing about the very thing which he is now dead set on bringing down. And, of course, the time honored scene in which the hero barges into a crowded room at the climax to confront the enemies face to face.

Except "The Cove" is not fiction. It is fact. A documentary, probably on its way to winning an Oscar, directed by Louie Psihoyos with a former dolphin trainer turned activist Ric O'Berry as its driving force. Once the trainer for the various bottlenose dolphins posing as "Flipper" on the 60's TV show, he experienced a transformation when one of these mammals died in his arms in a manner that he felt proved they were self aware and just as intelligent as mankind. From that moment forward he crusaded to free captive dolphins around the globe. As he says in the film, "If a dolphin's in trouble anywhere in the world, my phone rings."

Perhaps they have been in the most danger, day in, day out, for years and years, in the Japanese community of Taiji, specifically in the hidden cove of the movie's title where hundreds are dolphins are lured, the best are selected for sale at extragavant costs to various dolphinariums, and the rest are, to put it very mildly, slaughtered and sold, usually mislabled, on the meat market, where its high traces of mercury are having an altogether different and potentially grave effect on the Japanese people.

Because dolphins do not fall under the commercial whaling ban imposed by the IWC it is not considered illegal, but Japan also claims - and we see this on camera - that when dolphins are killed it is done so in a "humane" manner. O'Berry knows this is not true. He has seen it with his own eyes. But the primary goal of "The Cove" becomes to show it to everyone else. How? The cove itself is off limits and heavily guarded. We see other activists who turn up, only to get themselves arrested and, thus, not be allowed to return.

O'Berry says his days are spent trying to avoid being arrested, which he does, barely. Indeed one flat-out disturbing image shows one of these dying dolphins taking its last breaths and then vanishing below the water as the Japanese fishermen responsible for these atrocities watch, smoking and laughing. Yes, laughing. Out loud. O'Berry talks of wanting to "pop" these people with his fists and you can understand why.

Together Psihoyos and O'Berry put together what is described as their own "Ocean's Eleven" team in an effort to secretly infiltrate this cove. World-class free divers and employees for George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic who can fashion high-def cameras hidden in rocks and foilage and even your usual crazy sort of guy who is always on the lookout for a little adventure hop onboard. They all know the stakes. If they are caught, it's jail. No one hesitates.

Psihoyos proceeds to weave this tale of environmental espionage in with the bigger picture, the dangers to Japanese citizens, most of whom do not even seem to be aware any of this is going on, the government's defense that they must use dolphins for food since their own feeding seriously hampers the country's fish supply when reality would seem to dictate this problem is being caused by humans.

The footage the team obtains is impossible to describe, simply calling it "hard to watch" means nothing when you consider that the whole debacle is real. Psihoyos smartly limits comments in the wake of it. There really is nothing that can or needs to be said.

There has been much made since the film's debut about American dolphinariums, such as San Diego's Sea World, purchasing their dolphins from Japan. Sea World and the others were, naturally, quick to defend themselves. But it seemed to me all that missed the point. While "The Cove" offers some of the most graphic footage I have ever seen, it counters that with a breathtaking portrait of a lone free diver and a lone dolphin, well, let's just go ahead and say it, communing. Side by side. The killing, the mercury poisoning, the money made, all of it is horrible and just reinforces Ric O'Berry's main message - dolphins were not meant for captivity.

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