In today’s pop culture lighthouses are strongly tied to ghost stories. They are isolate, often found in extreme weather conditions and have the ability to save sailors from harm, which makes them perfect to tell creepy stories featuring a group of explorers meeting the lighthouse operator, which tends to lead to a tragedy.
As such „Between Water“ fulfils all the criteria of a ghost story, without it being one. The short film tells the story of José Manuel Andoin and his mother, María Torralva, who were the last lighthouse operators of the lighthouse on the island of Santa Clara next to San Sebastian.
The movie starts with dozens of photographs and postcards of the lagoon of San Sebastian, all superimposed on each to showcase the island with the lighthouse. Even though all those pictures come from lots of different times, the changes made to the island are minute, which makes it seem frozen in time.
The short continues to a very bumpy trip onboard a boat that slowly steers toward the island and never loses track of its focus, the lighthouse. It is only after five minutes that the first human being is shown in the film: An acquaintance of Andoin’s who starts to reveal the interesting aspects of a man who, along with his mother, lived in complete solitude on the island for 24 years.
This is where another aspect of the ghost story comes into play. From the start both Andoin and his mother are referred to in the past, while their residence, the tiny and dirty house attached to the lighthouse is shown. We almost never see photographs of the two of them, however their presence is still felt in those rooms even after all those years. Through the audio we are able to get to know two of the protagonists better: Andoin, the former Olympic sharpshooter and his mother, an overbearing woman, who thought that her son didn’t need any other female in his life besides herself. Through the images, we get to explore the third protagonist: The lonely island that serves as a home to these two odd figures is shown in twisting ways and often showcases the clash between nature and civilisation.
The biggest change clocks in after 13 minutes. The island, which so far had been shown as the lonely hermits’ lone sanctuary is now shown as a tourist destination and is much more chaotic compared to the lonely, intimate start of the film. It is only fitting that this leads to a darker narrative. After 24 years living on the island, they are transferred to another lighthouse, where they aren’t as happy as they used to be, even though it is much closer to civilisation than the first one. The new home isn’t welcoming and when the audience is introduced to it, an angry dog is seen barking.
After the isolation of the first lighthouse, this change must have been quite a shock, which seems to have led to Andoin’s mother’s passing and then to the suicide of Andoin six months later. All this information is only passed to the audience through a voice-over narration, while the lighthouse light is shown. And so the movie ends. The two lights that have been responsible for the lighthouse, have been extinguished. However, their spirits are still felt and they will continue to be present as long as any lighthouse still shines.
As such, “Between Water” is a touching and gripping documentary about three very different and somewhat mysterious individuals. Although it might not answer each question that it asks, it is still a pleasure to watch and is able to pull us into the intriguing island of Santa Clara, just like Andoin and his mother almost 70 years ago.