NYFF 2013: ‘Costa da Morte’ is an impressive visual delight from a proven cinematographer

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Costa da Morte
Directed by Lois Patino
Spain, 2013

Characterized by the titled location, Costa Da Morte is an amorous tale like no other. A love affair between its maker, Lois Patino, and its coastal surroundings, the film is a small, intimate display of compassion between cinematographer and landscape. Capturing beauty and immortalizing natural liveliness is indeed accomplished with great triumph by the young director, but unfortunately for the masses, that same director might be the film’s biggest and possibly only fan.

Set in the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death), a region of Spain, the film documents the land by exploring the people who inhabit it, while encapsulating the varying terrain throughout the year. Getting its name from historical shipwrecks along areas of stormy and rocky shores, the film oversaturates its audience with explanations of its definition. Overexposed shots of fishing boats on roaring waves and thick fog plaguing the camera nearly infests the audience’s consciousness. Subtly romancing the audience with visual queues would have been a more enticing approach for the sake of attention spans and fatigue set forth by the peaceful sounds of beach life, but to do so would have made the coast less of a character.

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From Costa da Morte‘s title scene of falling timber, to its scenes of carnival life, to its last scenes of crashing ocean, Patino doesn’t hasten time spent on the coast. We learn of the land’s tenderness and destructiveness, its rural and urban life, we acknowledge its past and get an idea of where it’s headed due to climatic change. Yet this is so much more than a nature documentary; the film stimulates the senses Close your eyes and you are transported to Galica, which isn’t the worst of places to spend 80 minutes, but may feel like 70 minutes too long. Because the film doesn’t use a structured script and character development, aside from the embodiment of the coast itself, the journey can seem a little too prolonged and a bit too personalized from the filmmaker’s point of view. Some people like theme park rides at Disney, others like the ruins of Rome, and Patino likes the mystic of Costa Da Morte. Like any other avant-garde film, unless someone is dying to see the Coast of Death, audiences will either take it or leave it. Hopefully the masses will feel the infectious compulsion to love the scenery, as does the director, even if it’s from a technical level and not an emotional one.

Patino does an extraordinary job in cinematography. Morning mist takes on a new life form as it bleeds the canvas with decaying nodes of earthy browns and greens. Carnival rides jump out of the screen with neon bursts of red and pink. With one cinematic swoop, Patino manages to make Costa into his own visionary playground. A film that encompasses eerie destitute and electrifying energy, the art direction competes well with that of both Andrew Dominik and Nicolas Winding Refn. With a narrative, it’ll be interesting to see what features Patino will produce.

Perspective is quite effective with the use of distant panoramic shooting and close-up audio, as if inhabiting fisherman and shell collectors were setup with lavaliere microphones. With our sensory neurons firing off from near and far, the audience is given the fresh viewpoint of the coast itself. By doing so, Patino layers another connection with the terrain. No longer do we observe, but we hear from all directions, making us one with Costa Da Morte. Whether or not it takes, and transformation becomes inevitable, is up to the audience to decide. Either way, Patino wins with the respect of his beloved land or that of those who watch his film.

– Christopher Clemente

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The New York Film Festival celebrates 51 years and runs from September 27 to October 13, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s official site.




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