TIFF 2007. WAVELENGTHS: COCOTE BY NELSON CARLO DE LOS SANTOS ARIAS

This entry was posted on September 18th, 2017

By Aldo Padilla

Religious catharsis, a contact with God, the rhythmic movement that allows one to feel a presence that goes beyond the evident, a painful dance, shaped like a prayer. The ecstasy that the faithful reach through praises and supplications to God makes them lose their conscience, leaving aside everything that is logical. A sound marks the way to this particular nirvana, a rhythm, mix of crying, movement and all the emotions that try to get out,  a strange way of celebrating death.

The relationship of Latin American people with death is characterized by a series of nuances between the celebration of the dead and an inherent duel. In Cocote, death is a conductive thread that connects the protagonist with a strange environment: an almost unknown family, a faraway town, a set of manners that seem to be almost sacrilegious from his conservative point of view and a feeling of revenge that he tries to reject constantly, but that seems to be like a virus infecting everything around it.

There’s an idea of parallels between the film and the life of the director: in both cases, a “return” dominates them both. The protagonist must return to his old town from the capital city, a place where he seems to be stable (but bored) and then travel to this place that doesn’t resonate with him no more, just to assist the funeral of his father, who was assassinated with impunity. In the case of Nelson de los Santos, return is also a theme, since the long journey before his first film in the Dominican Republic had been preceded by his learning experiences in FUC and CalArts and his Mexican first feature Santa Teresa and Other Stories, one of the most risk-taking Latin American films of the last years. Both returns seem to look for a solution to a complex situation, the protagonist trying to calm the anxiety of a mostly feminine family in search of a relentless revenge, and Nelson de los Santos, filming in a country with a scarce filmography, and giving an auteur signature to a film of a complex society such as the Dominican.

The machismo surrounding the Dominican society surrounds the film constantly. The idea of a stratified society is constantly suggested through men that feel women are unworthy to speak as an equal. There are other differences accentuated, like the abyss between country and city, the condescendence of the evangelical church with its environment or the difference of social classes, marked by fixed shots that sum up two worlds in a same frame. There’s also a representation of a society whose laws seem to be just a facade, confronted with money or criminal power. The camera looks from far away to its lead character, which is told about how the justice machine works, with no other fuel than money. This shot is an ode to resignation in front of a fruitless fight, even in front of serious facts, like a killing.

The mastery which Nelson de los Santos has to record the intensity of the mortuary rites is without a doubt the highest point in the film. This spirituality transformed in movement reminds us of that intense epilogue in Tony Gatlif’s Exils, where the music becomes a kind of drug that distorts reality. In Cocote, the mix of emotions seems to generate an altered and isolated state where everything seems to be valid, where the sound acquires a materiality that is mixed with sweat and tears, all shaped in frames (in color and b/w) which accentuate all the states that the film goes by.

The revenge as an unavoidable path seems to be one of the ideas that are part of the film discourse. It’s probable that such interpretation is more of a quick impression than the actual take of the filmmaker, but the unavoidability of destiny seems to leave a kind of desolation in the ambiance. Everything seems to lead to a unique destiny, even when the protagonist seeks to get as far away from it. Fatality marks the characters even before their creation. The only thing that is left for the spectator is to enjoy everything that is out of field. A freedom that the author gives us with a fantastic sequence shot that gives a complete view in the night and that seems to trap the film in one minute.

Written and Directed by: Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias
Cast: Vicente Santos
Cinematography: Roman Kasseroller
Editing: Nelson Carlo De Los Santos Arias
Art Direction: Natalia Aponte
Producers: Fernando Santos Diaz, Lukas Valenta Rinner, Christoph Friedel
Dominican Republic, Argentina, Germany, Quatar