For the more adventurous cinephile, the 35th edition of Miami Dade College’s Miami Film Festival has a few selections worth seeking out. They may not be for everyone, but these two movies stand out as unique experiences on the big screen that should not be missed by movie goers looking for something beyond the usual approach of cinematic storytelling.
Cocote comes from the Dominican Republic. It tells a story that is most likely not uncommon to the country. It follows Alberto (Vicente Santos) a gardener employed by a wealthy family in Santo Domingo who asks for a few days off for his father’s funeral. An evangelical Christian, Alberto travels to his small, seaside village, where his family worships God with a syncretism of Christian beliefs and African ritualism. His family wants Alberto to avenge his father’s murder, but the gardener would rather take the higher path and stop a cycle of violence that seems to plague the region.
Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias presents the action mostly at an objective distance, with off-center shots. He sometimes, symbolically, keeps faces off screen, cut off above the shoulder. A precise gesture considering the film’s title is slag for “head,” and the patriarch reportedly had his head cut off. The conflicted feelings of Alberto are also presented in fragmented bits that nevertheless feature a discomforting intensity that filmmakers hardly ever dare allow unfold over such long periods of time. This speaks to the naturalism of the acting and the suffering of the family. They are angry, and the women ferociously push Alberto to act upon their grief. Scenes of mourning are played out as ecstatically as the drunken arguments between family members. In contrast, but no less intense, are scenes of the camera lingering on a door to a makeshift church or travelling headlong down a dirt road with a ferocious drone of grinding bass strings on the film’s soundtrack.
The movie is raw but features precise camerawork. Sometimes it swirls around the environment to capture the action, other times it sits with observant patience. It’s as if the movie heads into action via a downward spiral, as Alberto, a reserved man seeking peace, is pressured to take some kind of action by divergent forces. It’s disorienting and discomforting at times but never makes excuses for the rough lot these people have been handed out, creating a sensory experience that feels unmatched by more seemingly deliberate works of cinema.
For those who enjoy industrial soundtracks in industrial settings with a dash of VHS tapes on how to shoot a rifle in the military, you can’t go wrong with Winter Brothers. After directing a few short films, Icelandic artist Hlynur Pálmason makes his feature debut, and it’s an experience to behold, especially on the big screen.
In an era where the uselessness of men is becoming more apparent, resulting in such phenomena as suicide via mass shootings and parents preferring daughters over sons, this movie has a startling resonance. Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) and his brother Johan (Simon Sears) are two men resigned to different degrees with their position as limestone miners in a desolate, bare Danish wintery forest. Johan goes with the flow of it, but Emil needs more. There are tensions between a girl Johan fucks (Victoria Carmen Sonne) who Emil has a crush, not to mention Emil’s shenanigans at work, including brewing a poisonous concoction of moonshine from industrial chemicals and a literal pissing contest below a massive grinding wheel at the mouth of the mine.
Though he seems simple-minded, Emil is the epitome of a man looking for relevance in a world where only manual labor matters. His much sturdier and handsomer brother adapts well, but Emil strains to express himself as a sketchy entrepreneur, amateur magician and all around troublemaker. When a rifle and video taped instructions on how to use it in war come into his possession, the film threatens to take a starker turn. Pálmason makes it all about the tension of this new threat, which is only heightened by the gray, moist clay of their surroundings, an almost biblical metaphor for the creation of man. Then there’s the film’s industrial, atonal soundtrack by Toke Brorson Odin, which sounds like a new wave synth music scrambled by a blender. Winter Brothers is one of the most immersive sonic and visual experiences I’ve seen programmed in the festival’s history.
Cocote is an East Coast premiere. Director Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias will be present to discuss the film, Thursday, March 15, at 9 p.m. at the Regal Cinema South Beach 18. For details and ticket information, visit 2018.miamifilmfestival.com/films/cocote.
Winter Brothers is a Florida premiere and screens Sunday, March 18, at 6:15 p.m. at the Regal Cinema South Beach 18. For details and ticket information, visit: 2018.miamifilmfestival.com/films/winter-brothers.