Directed by: Sean Hartofilis
Covadonga opens with a very beautiful shot panning across a lake on a misty morning, slowly turning towards shore and leaving us with a lone figure standing by the lakeside with a guitar. It has the effect of bringing us, willingly or not, into a secret place full of mysteries.
Sean Hartofilis who wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred and wrote or adapted the songs clearly has a lot of passion driving this film. His work effort aside, the film does have a clarity divided into three clear acts the film delivers its story well. The #cinematography is a real stand out: DOP Alexander Crowe does an excellent job of capturing both the quiet serenity and implied threat of the setting.
The score, by Wittches, is a mad mix of Irish folk and crashing droning electronica and given it's mainly played over a sunny wood the resulting juxtaposition adds to the slightly off-kilter atmosphere. All of these are pleasing qualities that are not without some skill, but they do not make a film.
Hartofilis character, Martin Ravin, is a killer. Unfortunately, it seems the film expects a bigger reaction from this reveal. Ravin is meant to be shrouded in mystery and so the film shows us a lot of very long shots of him not doing much. These overstay their welcome and rather than engaging the audience they're going, ‘yes we get it, now what?' The master of long shots of almost nothing is Steve McQueen (Hunger) but, crucially, he knows to get the balance right between the story on screen and what's happening in the seats. Long shots of a cleaner mopping floors in Maze Prison are nauseating, uncomfortable and claustrophobic, we scream at them to cut away. Beautiful takes of forest and a clearly rich man with an axe swanning about his huge house doing very little does not hit high on the tension scale.
As it develops it's clear that Covadonga is full of topics and uses abduction and murder to talk about (among other things) Catholic guilt, grief, redemption, a holy calling, Spanish history, Irish folklore, which is a lot for any film to handle. But Hartfolis chooses to present these ideas in long unbroken face-paced monologues. Certainly an unusual way to talk, but it shouldn't be more impactful than what's being said, especially when this is the crux of the whole film. It's frustrating because there's talent here, maybe too much of it, and it's presenting a collection of thoughts rather than unpacking fully formed ideas that we can walk away with. Nearly every scene cuts to Ravin singing to his victims the songs are well performed and they slow everything down. Covadonga can't decide if it's a film exploring dark ideas or a film built on dark aesthetics.
In fact it tries to be both, but without the right ammunition for either, it ends up shooting itself in the foot, twice. Its ideas seem to be proudly aloof and its action is lacking proper motivation. Tenuously linking it all with Ravin's ambiguous sanity is, given everything else the film is trying to do, disappointingly unoriginal.
Covadonga opens with an epigraph from James Joyce. Recently, Jordan Peele's Us opened with a seemingly unrelated fact about tunnels under America. Throughout the film our minds will come back to it because no matter where the fiction takes us we know it has a toehold on something real, and it's just enough to make us shiver. The quote from Ulysses, playing on top of that opening shot, is pretty, it makes us go "hmmm', but not much more than that.