By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Though not my highest rated film of the festival, Cocote is probably the most exciting and artistically bold film of this year’s Cine Las Americas. Director Nelson Carlo De Santos Arias takes a basic story of vengeance and presents it in some truly exciting and creative ways. It truly is a visually phenomenal piece and certainly an unforgettable experience. I am sure some audiences found the directors choices to be either bizarre or even excessive, but I can honestly say that his film left me floored with amazement.
Vicente Santos stars as Alberto, a sweet, hard-working and humble gardener who works for a very wealthy employer. Alberto receives notice from his family that his father has died and that he must go home for the funeral. Now converted to Evangelical Christianity, Alberto must return to his impoverished home where his relatives and neighbors practice a Catholic-inspired religion that involves voodoo and other dark and disturbing rituals. Estranged from his mother and sister, Alberto discovers the real reason his family demanded his return. The family’s patriarch was murdered and tradition demands that the male heir must avenge his untimely death. Alberto faces an inner struggle between his love for his new religion and the guilt he feels toward abandoning his family and the traditions they hold very dearly.
Prior to viewing this film, I had not heard Nelson Carlo De Santos Arias, a filmmaker from the Dominican Republic. Well, I can guarantee that he is a filmmaker that will be on my radar from now on. Cocote is actually the director’s first narrative feature film, and I must say that he makes one hell of an impression with it. The director and his amazing cinematographer Roman Kasserroller use a variety of visual styles, colors, and aspect ratios, all of which work well in their respective scenes and sequences. It seems like De Santos Arias wants his audiences to experience the real culture of the Dominican Republic and all of their passionate, powerful, and even shocking traditions and rituals. My only complaint is that some of these ritual scenes run a little too long for my taste. Otherwise, Nelson Carlo De Santos Arias has created a remarkable and incredible film that is guaranteed to stay with anyone who experiences it.