Credit: Incendio Cine
by Mark Cutler Film

Domingo and the Mist — Ariel Escalante Meza

May 26, 2022

The eponymous protagonist of Domingo and The Mist lives on a dilapidated dairy farm, high in the hilly rainforests of Costa Rica. He spends his days tending to his cows and occasionally trekking down the mountain to visit his middle-aged daughter. He spends his nights drinking clear liquor from an unmarked bottle with two or three “neighbors” who live a mile or so down the one dirt road in the area. The rest of the time he spends around his property, speaking to his deceased wife, who manifests as a serpentine, apparently sentient cloud of mist.

Ostensibly, the central drama of Domingo and The Mist concerns a highway, to be built over the land where Domingo and his neighbors still live. Developers in a distant office somewhere have decided that this tract of verdant rainforest is the most convenient path between some unnamed city and some other one, and have sent representatives first to bribe and then to threaten the last few holdouts in the area, Domingo included. Two helmeted, gun-wielding men begin to appear each night, driving up and down the otherwise deserted mountain road. Domingo, who believes his wife’s spirit can only visit him on the foggy mountain peak where she once lived, refuses every bribe and threat put before him, even as his drinking buddies start to disappear, or turn up dead under suspicious circumstances.

Though we spend much of the film following Domingo between just a handful of locations, many of them are lush, leafy rainforest paths, which would quickly blur together were it not for filmmaker Ariel Escalante Meza’s sharp sense of geography and sequencing. These boundless hills and valleys begin to feel enclosed, even claustrophobic, as Domingo sees fewer and fewer recourses for keeping his life and land intact. This sense of enclosure also gives the film a fable-like quality which helps sell its rather simple David-and-Goliath morality. Though it contains several frank depictions of predatory and coercive tactics used by real governments and corporations to dehumanize and displace rural populations, Domingo and The Mist is not overly concerned with real estate development, redlining, or global capitalism. Rather, as the drama unfolds, the helmeted men become something of a specter, a symbol of Domingo’s increasingly futile quest to hold on to his wife’s spirit or memory.

On this note, the film remains largely agnostic as to whether or not Domingo’s wife really appears in the mist. His daughter believes he’s either senile or perhaps drunk. Yet in several long, lovely shots, the mist certainly does seem to move with a sense of agency, twisting itself into a closed room or delicately winding its way up a narrow forest trail. Although we don’t see or hear her during the times when Domingo seems to see and hear her, the wife does get a few gnomic, voiceover monologues throughout the film, speaking as though she were Gaia. These more mystical, lyrical passages lend an appropriate gravity to Domingo’s plight, giving a supernatural sense of purpose to what would otherwise be a story about a very stubborn old man. How each viewer interprets this poetic, possibly otherworldly dimension of the film will likely inform their reception to its elliptical, ambiguous ending. While Domingo and The Mist offers few concrete resolutions across its 90-minute runtime, it nevertheless achieves a difficult balancing act of reality and allegory, thanks in no small part to Meza’s careful and confident handling of his own, admittedly somewhat light script.

Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 3.