The tiny island of Corvo is the smallest of the nine landmasses that make up Portugal’s Archipelago of the Azores, seven miles across and home to a population of close to 500 people. Gonçalo Tocha’s psychogeographical travelogue seems determined to capture every square inch and as many of the local residents on camera as humanly possible: “We going to film everything we can,” the young Portuguese documentarian declares, and brother, he’s not kidding. Over the next three-plus hours, we see long shots of Corvo’s rocky cliffs, rain-swept streets and rustic houses. We also meet the village’s cheese makers and karaoke singers, fishermen and slaughterhouse workers, tourist-board toadies and visiting British bird-watchers, ex-whalers and current Communist Party members, its flashy-car-driving young and cap-knitting elderly; that a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker do not make cameos is a minor miracle.
A sense of preservation is inherent in Tocha’s obsessive-compulsive filmmaking, as well as vague notions of social criticism (union woes are mentioned; a bitter socialist declares that Europe is kaput). What exactly is being commemorated, however, is lost in the thicket of catchall footage; though modernity is glimpsed via a proposed arts center, it’s not like the project will supplant the long-dead traditions or annihilate the area’s agrarian ways. As a tone poem, Tocha’s doc can be mesmerizing. As a memento mori, It’s the Earth feels a little lost in space.
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