Dominican Republic film-maker Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias’s gorgeous, restlessly creative hybrid fiction combines ethnographic documentary with improvised drama to explore a clash of two religious identities. Evangelical Alberto (Vicente Santos) returns to his village to attend his murdered father’s funeral, replete with theatrical Catholic rituals. “Cocote” is Dominican slang for the soon-to-be-broken neck of an animal, foreshadowing the eruption of violence that will close the film.
The film flits between forms and film stocks, mixing black and white with vivid colour, 35mm film with VHS, and meticulous compositions with TV news inserts. Its elliptical structure and lack of narrative signposting (not to mention its refusal to maintain its protagonist’s perspective) mean that at times it’s hard to follow. A swirling, atonal score complicates things further.
Yet a static shot of an empty swimming pool, kinetic closeups of women singing and wailing in rapture, and the solitary image of a man running down a pitch-black highway, shirt bloodied and lit only by passing cars, are so singularly compelling that the way De Los Santos Arias obfuscates the direction of the narrative seems a minor quibble.