By Aldo Padilla
Lisandro Alonso has built a whole filmography from one seemingly simple idea: the premise of the solitary man that escapes his past and has nature as his accomplice. This nature can play its role as the imposing and scorching Chaco or the freezing and deserted Tierra del Fuego, where different hermits usually look to purge their sins in front of a superior judge played by the universe, which manifests itself in nature. Ico Costa takes this idea when shooting Alva, a film where we can see a man dwelling through the Portuguese forests, seeking shelter, small fruits or water from the river, a river whose sound defines the austerity of the film. Unlike Alonso’s films, Costa’s first feature allow us to be auditory witnesses of the ominous crime of the lead character –despite giving few clues about the motives of the killings that he commits- only represented by shotgun shots we hear from a house door a woman just entered.
If maybe crime and its coldness is something that permeates the film, Costa bets for an exercise of non-expressiveness in how he portrays his lead character. We can barely decipher him through his walks and actions. In his few interactions with other people, one can sense the uncomfortableness proper of a man who seems to be completely used to a self-imposed exile, away from the bucolic town he visits when committing his crime. The only hint that something’s off is perceived when the man is interrogated about the state of his daughters, who we don’t see at any time, before watching him shooting his shotgun and walk to the town.
Before going inside the forest, we see the only scene in the film that gives us any certainties: The man decides to go looking for his daughters since he’s unable to find them. When confronting the girls’ grandmother, his character is well defined as a man prone to violence, even if this doesn’t manifest itself when he’s alone. This of course, tries to break the myth of the quiet man that only explodes from impotence: here, the violent man manifests himself in any opportunity, and he’s only calm when punished by a nature that reminds him that he can’t escape the past surrounding him.
One is able to see a change in Ico Costa’s cinema since his wonderful previous short Nyo Vweta Nafta, a remarkable change influenced by Teddy Williams (whose production company Un Puma is in charge of the film). In Alva, not only does he move away from the constant dardennian following of his character in his last film, but also allows us to understand him as part of his surroundings, not just in constant motion.
In the Hindu film The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain there’s also a strong relation with nature, represented by the huge mountains where shepherds live. During the first half, we have several elements that take this film closer to the documentary genre, but in his second half the narration veers closer to fantasy, since the mountain seems to start telling the shepherds about their wrong path.
There’s a strong idea in the film that is related to the respect of nature from a spiritual vision. This idea starts being distorted when a plane crashes near the habitat of an old shepherd and his helper, who are tempted by the possibility of a reward if they should find any wreckage of the crash, all of this despite the sacred nature of the mountain.
The director’s gaze over the surroundings of this heavenly environment gives the landscape a certain personality, turning it into a breathing being, something that is portrayed in the nuances of the cold air while being filmed, and also with the ease of the shepherds-turned-actors, the sheep and goats, that move together as a single being through this almost vertical landscape. The representation of the mountain as a living being is defined by certain apparitions and an oneirism which is very different to the one occidental cinema is used to, something that gives life to the air, suddenly freezing the image.
Directing, script: Ico Costa
Cinematography: Hugo Azevedo
Editing: Francisco Moreira, Ana Godoy
Portugal, France, Argentina, 2019, 98 mins
The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain
Directing: Ridham Janve
Script: Akshay Singh, Ridham Janve
Editing: Kratika Adhikari
Cinematography: Saurabh Monga
India, 2019, 97 mins