Costa Da Morte Dir. Lois Patiño

[Zeitun Films; 2013]

Styles: seas, angry seas, calm seas
Others: Le Tempestaire, Man of Aran

It’s troublesome locating Lois Patiño’s experimental Galician ode within the realm of realism. This is slow cinema proper: anti-event and sideways swelling, a silent observer to “a little ol’ thing we call life.” “I am big and bold and boring and read me as you please,” says the dumb tagline I just made up. But somehow, this lack of dogme positions it closer to the heavily political project of Bazinian realism, making Costa a sort of hybridized propaganda with a void as its call to arms. It’s Eisenstein’s peacock without its head: an aesthetic-politic misalignment that somehow perfectly fits the seeing-is-reprieving modality of neo or soviet realism. Imagery, imbued with a synchronicity of absolutism and spectral uncertainty, elevates beauty and fear as ulterior social modes. I’m ranting, but this is proper, severed from the ballot propaganda, a chilling experimental manifesto that might also be a cheap public access travel log. Hey, what’s the difference in this economy?

Shots are (held and shot) long and grippingly deep, requiring multiplanar viewership: an invocation of absolute depth of focus to draw attention to the super-flat. Capital L “Landscape” is the subject in nearly all of the film’s footage (more durative photos than actual moving images), and the sea stretching back and the mountains jutting up and the forest growing and falling all expand and swell within this visual logic. That is: presenting Galicia as a collection of near-stills in comprehensive detail, we see an overwhelming vastness underwhelmed. Deep focus allows each very literal element equal traction within a subtle sensorium. Even wind becomes tactile with the superb aural and photo sensitivity of the modern film equipment that so fully presents a confoundingly impossible whole. Images do not overwhelm with their breadth; rather, it is a slow realization of the multiform elementalism that makes each image so tantalizingly self-contained.

To move from the irritatingly vague, Costa Da Morte is a technical and experimental triumph, combining hushed grandness with an unspoken and unspeakable critique of both nature and society. I do not mean it passes judgment; indeed, much of its “triumph” is its near-absolute impassivity of cinematography. It is a film entirely of establishing shots, none of which fully locate despite the geographic unity and near-ethnographic project of the film. Again, it is landscape that reigns supreme, with the horizon (sometimes occupying the foreground like in a child’s drawing, sometimes befogged in unclear space, often off-screen entirely) a unifying and disorienting visual cue to a topography free from any certain anchor. Humans, in this context, take on an uncertain role. No shot frames its human subjects (more accurately, human backdrops) from closer than, say, ten meters, yet voices, footsteps, hand motions are heard with startling alacrity. In a shot of a forest, it takes several moments to even discern the presence of humans from the literal and metaphoric fog .Their role is not ornamental, but functional — although with utter operation here akin to impotence. In an instance emblematic of the film overall, they only become apparent as intratextual editors; the loggers exist merely to alter the mise-en-scène, eerily altering photographic essence with each tree they fell. It does not castigate, however; the people, dwarfed in this landscape, are impotent despite their revisionist power. The few scenes that position men not in nature but in a space of spectacle (a state fair, some other event that involves donkeys and betting) creates a jarring lack of contrast to their quasi-comic powerlessness in nature.

Galicia is shown in slideshow projector realism (coined David Feinberg, 2015) — each new shot a thoroughly unengaging snap no more or less important than the last. There is no reason to watch this film; it offers nothing except an empty beauty that seems unreal to me. To present the real, live, without commentary (with plenty of intervention, but ultimate purposelessness) — it’s so good to look at and to feel. There are many missteps (the seeping-in of a possible anti-developmental dogmatic reading in the last minutes that threatens the film’s holy futility), but I am in awe of how, intentionality aside, little this film accomplished and looks so dee gee good doin’ it.

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