The fiction feature debut of Nelson Carlo de los Santos, whose feature length essay, “Santa Teresa y otras historias,” won Best Latin-American Film at 2015’s Mar del Plata Festival, ”Cocote” stands out from most Dominican productions in its three-way international co-production backing from DR’s Guasabara Cine, Argentina’s Nabis Filmgroup (“One Sister”) and Germany’s Pandora Film Produktion (“The Other Side of Hope,” “Only Lovers Left Alive”).
Winning this April the IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada, a pix-in-post showcase, “Cocote” featured one month later at the Cannes Film Market in a Panama Goes to Cannes special screening. It will world premiere at Locarno in its Signs of Life section. A sidebar aiming to explore frontier territories in the seventh art, the festival has said, Signs of Life has gone competitive in 2017, raising its profile.
Also written by De los Santos, “Cocote” turns on an evangelical gardener who goes home for the funeral of his father, gunned down by an influential man. Mourning, he is forced to participate in religious rites contrary to his beliefs. He is also expected to avenge his father’s murder.
“Cocote” was inspired in part by a childhood memory, turning on a man who worked at De los Santos’ great aunt’s house. One day, after an absence, he showed up and his aunt asked if he resolved everything. “Unaltered, he said: ‘No, nothing. I did to him what he did to my dad, I cut his neck,’” De los Santos recalled. He added: “As I understood, that man kept working at my aunt’s house, but I never talked to him, because I was too afraid.”
It’s impossible to talk about crime without mentioning morality, De los Santos argues. “In my country, I start to ask: From what point do we constitute morality then?” “Cocote” contrasts two religions, Los Misterios, a syncretic mix of West African beliefs and Christianity, and the Protestant Church, “introduced in the late ‘50s through U.S. imperialism.” The film’s acceptance of different points of view creates a constant rupture in narrative, De los Santos added.
“Cocote” is produced by Fernando Santos, Lukas V. Rinner and Christoph Friedel. De los Santos worked with non-pro actors, rehearsing for six months. Funding sources ranged as far as Ibermedia, the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund and Qatar’s Doha Film Institute.
“We are very excited to handle the film of a young director who questions in a very personal film the idea of morality in his country and who enquires about the place of religions in his culture, in the Dominican Republic,” Luxbox’s Fiorella Moretti and Hedi Zardi said in a joint statement.
They continued: “‘Cocote’ offers a single vision of hardly ever-shown rituals of the island and a sensorial experience for the audience. We were impressed by the astonishing beauty of the Caribbean landscape mixed with the dormant threat and tension in each frame,” saying that the film meshed “a demanding visual proposition” and “deep research into beauty.”