Cocote

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Aria

Starring

José Miguel Fernández Vicente Santos Yuberbi de la Rosa

Anticipation.

Lauded on the festival circuit and the director has been pegged as one to watch.

Enjoyment.

Tough going but entirely unique. Maybe a few too many shrill shouting matches though.

In Retrospect.

Definitely keen to see what Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Aria is up to next.

A rare and troubling cinematic foray to the Dominican Republic in this surreal, rustic revenge yarn.

With each new scene comes a new stylistic flourish, or perhaps sense that a completely different director has gotten their mitts on the camera, in Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias’ boldly intriguing poverty belt revenge film, Cocote. This often cacophonous saga centres on passive, push-around-guy Alberto (Vicente Santos) who appears to work as a gardener for a middle class Dominican family. The murder of his father has forced him to take a dark journey back to his rural roots where he must contend with theatrical fundamentalist religion, yammering in-laws, tooled-up gangsters and alcoholic goats.

Just as the film regularly returns to shots of churchgoers juddering in paroxysms of spiritual fervour, Cocote is a work which writhes, squirms and just generally prefers to head in a direction determined by its own off-kilter muscle memory. Some sequences come across as on-the-lam captured fragments of documentary reportage, filmed secretly in order to capture the pure textures of the immediate moment. Others are more sculpted and traditionally cinematic, like one later scene in which Alberto runs down a road at night with the headlights of cars illuminating his flailing shadow from behind, an ominous, Bernard Herrmann-esque musical cue played over the top.

It’s not a pleasurable film in any traditional sense, and viewers should be warned that a high tolerance for extended, comically repetitive shouting matches is most certainly required. Indeed, most of the people Alberto meets kick off the conversation by humiliating or demeaning him in some way. Even when he has plucked up the courage to face off against the hoodlums who may have had a hand in his father’s death, he’s the target of an extreme torrent of abuse before anything physical is allowed to happen.

While the story itself remains purposefully opaque, the film nevertheless commits to bringing an unexpurgated and unvarnished version of Dominican parochial life to the screen. This in itself offers reason behind the intense anger harboured by everyone, as well as a sense that these people are looking for something, anything to rally around in order to find a sweet release. But there’s also an absurd humour at play, especially in the fact that Arias seldom resorts to a traditional medium shot when actors are talking. In one early sequence, a conversation plays out as one character plucks and fillets a chicken with a machete. Which sums up the film, all told.

Published 25 Jul 2018

Tags: Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias

Anticipation.

Lauded on the festival circuit and the director has been pegged as one to watch.

Enjoyment.

Tough going but entirely unique. Maybe a few too many shrill shouting matches though.

In Retrospect.

Definitely keen to see what Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Aria is up to next.

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