Caribbean Beat Magazine

Screenshots (Mar/Apr 2018) | Film reviews

This month’s Caribbean film-watching picks, with reviews of Cocote; Sergio & Sergei; and The Silence of the Wind

  • The Silence of the Wind
  • Sergio & Sergei
  • Cocote


Directed by Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias, 2017, 106 minutes

In Cocote, the hybridity that is the essence of the Caribbean condition is made manifest with unflinching formal daring and piercing thematic reach. At its simplest a narrative of revenge, Cocote opens out further into an often abstract reckoning not only with violence but also with religion, class and, corruption, told in a cinematic language that is a bracing attempt to create an Antillean aesthetic.

At the centre of Cocote — the word, ominously, is Dominican Spanish for neck, specifically the neck as a body part that can be broken or severed — is Alberto, who, as played by Vicente Santos, is a beguiling mix of the muscular and the melancholic. A gardener to a wealthy family in Santo Domingo, Alberto returns to his own family’s village when a well-connected (thus officially untouchable) policeman murders his father over an unpaid debt. As an evangelical Christian, Alberto balks at the expectation of him participating in the death rituals, a syncretism of Roman Catholicism and West African belief practices. Spiritual conflict will not prove his greatest challenge, however: Alberto is bluntly told that, as the eldest son, he is also expected to avenge his father’s brutal killing.

Nelson de los Santos Arias’s stylistic proclivities were previously on display in his first feature, Santa Teresa and Other Stories, a muscle-flexing gloss on Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666. In Cocote he gives these tendencies full freedom — documentary-style ethnographic observation blends with conventional drama, colour with monochrome 35-mm cinematography, expansive fixed-camera takes with energetic hand-held ones, and a spectacularly climactic 360-degree shot, the visuals wrapped in an immersive and inventive sound design.

Admittedly this isn’t all seamless (and it isn’t meant to be) — but it works, brilliantly. Cocote is deliriously innovative, palpably Caribbean cinema, by a filmmaker who has put us on notice of his considerable talents.

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Sergio & Sergei

Ernesto Daranas Serrano, 2017, 93 minutes

Playing loose and fast with actual events, the veteran Cuban filmmaker Ernesto Daranas Serrano comes up trumps with Sergio & Sergei, a humanist, magical-realist political satire containing echoes of Gravity.

Set in 1991, the film follows Sergio (Tomás Cao), a Moscow-trained Marxist philosopher at the University of Havana and amateur radio enthusiast. He becomes unlikely comrades over the frequencies with Sergei (Héctor Noas), the lone cosmonaut aboard the Mir space station — who, with the USSR in free fall, is in danger of being forgotten by his minders. Sergio decides to enlist the aid of another radio buddy, Peter (Ron Perlman), a US journalist with a love of conspiracy theories and alcohol, to bring the stranded space traveller home.

There is much genial humour in this sprightly, solidly made comedy. Yet it is a single, stark image that proves most moving: a Soviet flag forlornly adrift in the cosmos.

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The Silence of the Wind

Álvaro Aponte-Centeno, 2017, 93 minutes

The Silence of the Wind opens with an arresting image: a close-up of an eye staring through a hole in a tarpaulin. The eye belongs to an undocumented migrant aboard a boat off the Puerto Rican coast. Also aboard the boat is Rafito (Israel Lugo), whose business it is to bring such migrants into Puerto Rico.

The understated and sympathetic debut feature by Álvaro Aponte-Centeno, The Silence of the Wind joins a number of Caribbean films taking undocumented migration as its subject. Yet the film is less concerned with the dynamics of the issue — no fingers are pointed — and more interested in painting a realist portrait of people like Rafito who, for whatever reasons, find themselves facilitating a system that is now part of regional life. Yet that system is far from benign, as the film’s harrowing final moments, set again on the implacable sea, remind us.

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