Cocote (2017, Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias)

At the end of a year I usually make myself a list of movies, recent and old, that I really oughtta catch up with over the following year. And I usually get through a quarter to a third of the list, because a year is a long time and new distractions come up. I’ve also been missing theme months with Katy… so instead of the one big list this year, I’m gonna try a Theme Week approach (or for busy weeks or juicy themes, Theme Fortnights). Maybe all this is needlessly complicated, but when your goal is to watch All The Good Movies, which movie to watch next is a big question. It’s January, so Sundance and Rotterdam are coming, so this week I’m watching some movies that played there last year. Cocote premiered in Locarno, then played in Rotterdam’s “Bright Future” section with The Wild Boys and The Nothing Factory, and Cinema Scope wrote an article convincing me it’s essential viewing.

Was it essential? Maybe not, but a nice, slow/weird-cinema arthouse break from all the oscary things we’ve watched lately. At least I think it’s the first Dominican film I’ve seen – only previous reference to the country was when a Show Me a Hero character spent an episode there. As usual when watching a festival film from a previously unknown country, they’re not making it look like a great place to visit, the film displaying the corruption of the police force and overall rule of violence.

The style is all over, centering around long ceremonies related to the mourning of our lead dude Alberto’s dead father. Alberto is a groundskeeper in the city, summoned to his small-town home after his dad’s violent death at the hands of gangster loansharks. The picture moves from 16:9 to 4:3, color to b/w, tripod to handheld, with chapter-heading title cards. We get rituals (too many rituals) and endless arguments, and it’s slow and moody in between, often with very wide shots… also 360-degree pans, and conversations where you never see who is talking, culminating in Alberto’s final maybe-revenge action, an off-camera struggle with shots fired.

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

The latent revenge drama as such is periodically drowned out by an ethnographic musical, just as Alberto is lost in a sea of sorrow to which he can’t relate. Cocote circulates between states of rapture and downtime, the camera mediating the parameters of first- and third-person representation. De Los Santos Arias employs 360-degree pans to exquisite effect, often accommodating multiple experiential frequencies within the same shot, articulating Alberto’s indeterminate state — is it an awakening or an undoing? — with corresponding formal delineation.

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