Cocote — scattered, disjointed but rewarding

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A report by Nigel Andrews for The Financial Times.

A film from the Dominican Republic that requires patience from its audience

Getting to grips with Cocote, which has won praise and prizes, is like getting to grips with the prolix name of its Dominican Republic-born writer and director. Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias. Respect! Where does it begin, where does it end, and how best to traverse what comes between?

The movie’s scattered, disjointed scenes seem to seek an integrated identity — in the story of a rich family’s gardener (Vicente Santos) visiting his home town to bury his murdered father and perhaps seek revenge — while long passages are devoted to the loud, frenzied, let-it-all-out mourning rites of friends and relatives.

In other sequences the camera stares from afar, immobile, as audible colloquies take place on a middle-distance beachfront seen through a doorway (very The Searchers) or in a voluptuous, God’s-eye-view jungle that dwarfs, without drowning, the speakers. A story seeking coherence? Yes. That may be the point. The hero’s own mind circles, dithers, perambulates. He’s a Hamlet pondering the kill. Near the end there is a literally breathtaking, nocturnal 360-degree shot — we stop breathing so we can peer into what might dreadfully happen — that vindicates, or consummates, all the vagaries and dislocations before. These include alternations of colour and monochrome; pauses for enigmatic chapter headings; bold and unflinching shots of chickens being chopped for the cookpot. (“Cocote” means “neck” in Dominican-Spanish patois.) It’s hard work watching this film, but I shall get in line to see Señor NCLSA’s next.

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