Costa Rican cinema has to address social problems, declared Ariel Escalante, director of “Domingo y la Niebla” (Domingo and the Fog), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the second feature film by Escalante, 37 years old, and the first one from this Central American country that competes in the official selection, although not for the Palme d’Or but in the parallel contest “Una Cierta Mirada” (A Certain Kind of Gaze).
“Domingo y la Niebla,” tells the story of an elderly widower who lives in the community of Cascajal, in the core of the country. His land, like that of so many neighbors, is coveted by a company that is building a highway.
By hook or by crook, the neighbors agree to sell, but Domingo refuses because his deceased wife speaks to him through the fog present on his land, that natural element so present in the Costa Rican mountains. “I began to get the first ideas for this film in 2019, and I felt that there was a gap in my country in the cinema that we were making, that they did not want to generate or had not managed to generate a political dialogue”, Escalante told AFP.
Domingo’s relationship, played by Carlos Ureña, with the landscape around him is supernatural, but Escalante rejects the term “magical realism”. “I feel that magical realism is a beautiful and impressive current movement we dialogue with and that we have also learned and enjoyed a lot. But I think it responds to another era”, he explains.
“A Molotov cocktail”
Escalante rather insists on the debate that he wants to launch in a country that does not talk enough about its internal problems, such as land occupations. “We are not putting on the table what is happening, which seems to me to be the first thing to do. Talking about it is not going to solve the problem, but it is the least”, he adds.
“I felt the need to make a film that spoke of a problem that Costa Rica has, which in its violence, which is even hard to believe because it is not known outside the country”. Escalante turns to non-professional actors from Cascajal, where he lived for months, to understand the local problems.
A student at the Film and Television School of Havana, Escalante recalls his time at that institution as decisive in building his political and artistic outlook. “I come from a very politicized home”, with parents dedicated to the social sciences in San José, recalls the director. “El Sonido de las Cosas” (The sound of Things), his first feature film, represented the Central American country at the Oscars in 2017.
Then Escalante participated as an editor in “Ceniza Negra” (Black Ash), the first film by his compatriot Sofía Quirós and the first Costa Rican film to be presented at Cannes in 2019; 3 years later, the time has come to propose something different. “I see this movie as a Molotov cocktail”, he assured, referring to “Domingo y la Niebla”.
If the tape is incendiary, the deflagration is slow because the tension rises little by little. There are elements of the western, documentary social cinema, of fantastic cinema. “Postmodern thought is like a blender, and the truth is that I feel pretty comfortable with that blender”, he concludes.