'Rio Corgo': Film Review

Rio Corgo still 2 -  H 2016
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
"Slow cinema" at its most seductively sweet.

Maya Kosa and Sergio da Costa's DocLisboa prizewinner played recently in the Berlinale's Forum parallel section.

The river of life keeps rolling along in Rio Corgo, dreamlike demi-semi-doc debut by Portuguese duo Sergio da Costa and Maya Kosa. A beautifully executed portrait of a dignified, dandyish senior and his one-horse hamlet, this is ''slow cinema'' of a relatively accessible stripe. The Swiss co-production structures rural realities into the gentle contours of fiction with minimal means and a gently sensitive but firm artistic hand in the style of Michelangelo Frammartino's widely-screened The Four Times (2010).

Winner of the domestic competition when world-premiering at Lisbon's DocLisboa late last year, Rio Corgo garnered near-universal praise when bowing internationally in the Forum at Berlinale and looks set to burnish the already soaring reputation of Portuguese cinema. While borrowing certain pages from the playbooks of the nation's most acclaimed current cinematic practitioners Pedro Costa and Miguel Gomes, da Costa and Kosa — both of whom have collaborated with Gomes in the past — the pair carve out their own esthetic of austere drollery. Their film attunes itself to the sedate, stately pace at which protagonist Joaquim Silva — a flashily-attired, seventy-something maverick known as 'Mr Spaniard' by his fellow villagers — goes about his business.

Resplendent in his exquisitely tailored suit, vest and boots, Silva's craggy features recall Hollywood character-actor/novelist Edward Bunker. And, like Bunker, Silva has crammed several lives' worth of experience and activity into his span on this planet. "I've been an umbrella-repairer, farmer, shepherd, barber, bricklayer, miner, gardener, clown, magician ... now I am nothing," he muses at one point. But this dude — viewed as a kind of bandit-cum-gypsy by his more conservative neighbors — is evidently far from inactive, swaggering through the surrounding valleys on long walks and passing the time of day with one of the area's few younger residents, schoolgirl Ana. Tragically unlucky in love, Silva ruefully cherishes memories of his ill-fated paramour from his time in Portugal's former African colony of Guinea — a woman who periodically appears to him in ghostly/hallucinatory form via the figure of a hat-wearing beauty.

Da Costa and Kosa (who share editing duties with Gomes' regular cutter Telmo Churro) interweave relatively 'straight' documentary material with reveries and flights of fancy, constructing a light but sturdy tapestry of impressions and episodes. The country folks' harmonious inter-relationships with nature are one of several recurrent features, most delightfully illustrated by an accordion player delivering a tune with howlingly helpful canine accompaniment.

Formal rigor is maintained throughout thanks to the immaculate composition of cinematographer da Costa's widescreen images, capturing the landscape at various stages of the year with a subtly color-leached palette. Silva is depicted seen from behind, a timelessly romantic figure of sublime contemplation worthy of Caspar David Friedrich's paintings from three centuries ago. Echoing Gomes' predilection for jaunty scoring, the soundtrack features a judiciously sparing use of Portuguese pop from the '60s and '70s — ideal counterpoint to a project so richly seasoned in unsentimental nostalgia.

Production companies: Close Up, O Som e a Furia
Cast: Joaquim Silva, Ana Milao, Maria de Graca Martins
Directors-screenwriters: Sergio da Costa, Maya Kosa
Producers: Joelle Bertossa, Luis Urbano, Sandro Aguilar
Cinematographer: Sergio da Costa
Editors: Telmo Churro, Sergio da Costa, Maya Kosa
Sound: Ricardo Leal, Adriano Santos, Bruno Moreira
Sales: Close Up Films, Geneva, Switzerland

Not rated, 95 minutes