The first Costa Rican film to be in the official selection in Cannes ever, Domingo and the Mist seems to thread some familiar ground at first, with its portrayal of a gruff old man who, alongside his neighbours, is targeted by some shady officials who are trying to pay them to leave their houses to be able to build a highway.
So it is refreshing that there is more subtlety to the story than just a tale of oppression and social inequality as first appears. The threat that these locals have to deal with are very real and chilling, the director does not shy away from the reality of corruption and the impression that they are left to fend for themselves with no external help even a possibility. This is on top of the economic hardship they endure which lead some to desperate measures. All these scenes are shot with a perfect balance, never tugging at our heart strings but quietly laying this injustice bare.
The film then splices these with moments of magic realism in which Domingo's late wife makes her presence known to him through her voice and clouds of smoke (and Ariel Escalante Meza sure likes his smoke machine, at times Domingo's home looks like a '90s European techno club) although to no one else, scenes that are atmospheric but restrained and take a further poignancy as the history of their relationship and past issues are exposed later. With these the film explores grief and regret yet neither points the finger at Domingo nor making him too saintly, the weight of remorses obviously being a heavy burden.
Finding a balance between the two tones is a challenging one, yet Ariel Escalante Meza pulls it off, the naturalism and the magical blending in seamlessly to brush the complex psychological portrayal of an old man.
Review by Laurent De Alberti
Star rating: ★★★★☆
Official Selection, Un Certain Regard
Domingo and the Mist. 2022 Costa Rica/Qatar. Directed by Ariel Escalante. Starring Carlos Ureña, Sylvia Sossa...