Cocote

 

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Life in the Dominican Republic as seen through two contrasted lifestyles.

 
Cocote
  

This is a film that tells a story particular to its setting. Alberto (Vicente Santos) is employed as a gardener by a wealthy family in San Domingo but is permitted to return to his village home for a few days. This arises because he has been informed of the death of his father and wishes to attend the funeral. However, on arrival he discovers that the burial has already taken place and that he is expected instead to participate in the Rezos, the nine days of ritual during which prayers are offered up that the soul of the deceased finds peace, this being expressed with emotional intensity. Alberto follows the wishes of the family in this respect despite the fact that his own evangelical Christian beliefs conflict with this tribal religion and its superstitions. There's even more conflict when Alberto learns that, since his father had died by being beheaded by Martinez (Pedro Sierra), a big-shot criminal to whom he had been in debt, the family expect him to avenge the death by killing Martinez.

 

As that description suggests, Cocote has a strong storyline and there is the additional interest for us of seeing a film from a part of the world that is rarely shown on our screens. But, as it turns out, Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias, making his directorial debut in feature-length fiction with this film, has aims that cut across the power of his material. Admittedly, it is fair enough that he should choose to incorporate scenes of the Rezos which play like ethnic documentary footage. Indeed, that decision is comparable to the insertion of scenes of a circumcision ritual into a personal drama as portrayed in the African-set film The Wound (2017), but here the documentary aspect becomes over-extended. Even more harmful is the director's seemingly pointless embrace of fluctuations in the images: they move back and forth between colour and black and white and between contrasted ratios with a frequency that is distracting. In addition, the film is divided into five titled sections, again without any clear reason, while the film's climax takes place at night with the result that the darkness reduces its impact.

 

The filmmaker can do things well. One scene shows a messenger from Martinez driving up to warn off Alberto and to urge him to quieten the outbursts of his family, especially those demands for revenge being voiced by his adopted sister, Karina (Judith Rodriguez): this episode is admirably judged and the film is neatly bookended by static long shots of the rich family's pool that underline effectively the two contrasted worlds to be seen here. But the director's quest to be avant-garde and adventurous in an individual way can be tedious. It certainly undermines the drama of the main narrative thread despite the fact that the tale carries extra weight by incorporating social criticism (we learn that the criminal Martinez has been accepted as a police officer and that the powerful are beyond the reach of justice). There is much here of interest, but the ambitious approach makes it hard-going far too often.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Vicente Santos, Judith Rodríguez, Yuberbi de la Rosa, Isabel Spencer, José Miguel Fernandez, Pedro Sierra, Kalyane Linares Martinez.

 

Dir Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias, Pro Fernando Santos Diaz and Lukas Valenta Rinner, Screenplay Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias, Ph Roman Kasseroller, Art Dir Natalia Aponte, Ed Nelson Carlo (i.e. Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias), Costumes Thelma Vanahi and Carlo Herrera.

 

Cinema Conversación/Guasábara Cine/Nabis Filmgroup/Pandora Filmproduktion-ICA Cinema.
109 mins. Dominican Republic/Argentina/Germany/Qatar. 2017. Rel: 27 July 2018. No Cert.