A widower is threatened by land developers in Domingo And The Mist, the Un Certain Regard drama from director Ariel Escalante Meza. The Costa Rican film is a slow-burning comment on corruption pierced with a tinge of magical realism.
We first meet Domingo (Carlos Ureña) when he is walking slowly up a hill past his neighbor’s house. We follow him walking, and hear the woman having a conversation with a polite but persistent man who has knocked on her door. She’s unwilling to let him in the house; he offers to wait for her son to come home; she eventually relents and lets him in. Overhearing them, Domingo stops for a moment, and pauses pensively. These men are developers, and they use many tactics to persuade locals to sell their houses to make way for a new highway — not all of them legal. Domingo is one of the last to remain, and doesn’t want to leave. But his choice may be a risky one.
One of the reasons for Domingo’s stubbornness is emotional: this is the house he shared with his wife. He believes that she visits him regularly in the form of a mist. This mist is revealed to us visually and becomes a motif of the film, drifting through the verdant threatened landscape and into his home, swirling around him as he sleeps.
Sometimes it speaks, poetically, with a female voice. It’s a quietly powerful experience that’s both serene and slightly disturbing in its otherworldly nature. There is a sense that the rebellion against the developers is happening both in this world and another.
The pace of Domingo And The Mist feels almost too leisurely at times, but it gives ample time for reflection and it looks gorgeous — credit to cinematographer Nicolás Wong Díaz here.
Performances are subtle but strong: Ureña has a quiet, humble dignity as his character protects his house with his shotgun, wary of the repercussions of refusing to sign. The details of his daily life are simple but vivid, from his walks to buy strong liquor from a man in a hut, to the evenings he spends drinking it with a couple of friends.
This is not a rosy life — his relationship with his grown up daughter seems strained, for one — but it is Domingo’s life, and it is his right to hang onto it. That’s one of the messages of this film, and it’s a message worth repeating.
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