This full-on arthouse offering from the Dominican Republic delivers an oblique portrait of social division and simmering anger. At its centre is a conflicted evangelical Christian (Vicente Santos, a thoughtful presence), gardener to a privileged family, who returns to his rural home for his father’s funeral, only to learn he was killed by a corrupt – and untouchable – cop. The bereaved clan wants vengeance, which sits uneasily with the protagonist’s faith. But as the funeral rites unfold, emotions quickly run even higher.
A conventional filmmaker would exploit all this for steamy tropical melodrama, but director Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias is a far more cerebral type, keen to keep the audience at a contemplative distance. Replicating the central character’s feeling of dislocation, the style is restless, falling between dramatic storytelling and documentary observation as it gestures towards a revenge plot but spends (perhaps too much?) time recording the local religious rituals’ enveloping haze of percussion, chants and near-hysteria. Shifts in colour, screen ratio, and even crucial moments happening off-screen, show a first-time filmmaker pretty much up for anything, and the effect is by turns fascinating and frustrating. It’s a demanding watch which will sit better with viewers attuned to celluloid explorers such as Lisandro Alonso or Pedro Costa, yet there’s certainly something invigorating about its search for a new form to express the dysfunction and anguish of the film’s native land. The sheer sense of engagement here is undeniable.