Film Reviews

Manchester Film Festival: Covadonga

Words have not yet been invented to describe how one feels when observing a giant of a man – Martin Ravin (Beach Pillows’ Sean Hartofilis) –  playing an acoustic guitar by a lake, wearing nothing but his shorts, for he to paddle out in his canoe, into the middle of said lake and dive straight in…

Covadonga presents its story in two chapters, though the events of chapter two look to precede and succeed the events of chapter one, to a slight confusion. The first chapter opens with a beautiful establishing aerial shot of the lake and shore area, where the audience is presented with the beast-sized Martin Ravin playing his blue acoustic guitar and singing an Irish-esque song to himself – his voice is actually somewhat soft.

Soon, however, the story transcends into pure weirdness after Martin begins to mop the walls and beams within his wooden home situated within the woodland close to the lake. Additionally in the first chapter, presented with a static shot, Martin is having a quick shave – using foam, obviously – leading him to scream at the mirror and show off his scary eyes and suspect eyeliner. Later, a lawman (George Hartofilis) arrives, though he insists to Martin that he is a detective and not a police officer, and enquires if George has seen the missing persons, but Martin insists that he has seen nothing…despite the creaking noise of an individual tied to a chair on the floor above. Martin insists that the noise is of the rats, and Detective Doofus believes him, obviously.

Now the second chapter possesses the slight confusions. As mentioned, events in the second chapter suggests to precede and succeed the events in chapter one, beginning with a late night stroll conducted by an adventurous boyfriend-girlfriend couple intending to borrow (without permission) Martin’s canoe – Martin is scoping their actions from a balcony on his house, but he seems admirable of their bravery.

The trouble begins, however, when The Boy (Matthew Montemaro) returns back to land… *without* the girl, and he refers to her as a “bitch”. Something is clearly wrong. Once Martin notices that The Boy has returned alone, he immediately vacates his home like a rabid wolf, brutally attacks The Boy, and then establishes who was tied-up to the chair earlier on in the first chapter. As chapter two transcends into chronologically succeeding the story events of chapter one, Covadonga transitions into more of a horror film, and Martin is now the monster. Genre conventions do, of course, eventually appear, but these are paralleled with Martin’s frequent singing and playing of the acoustic guitar.

Sean Hartofilis’ direction of himself was thrilling and exceeding of expectations, as this was his first time of acting in one of his own films. In his post-premiere Q&A, Hartofilis confirms Stanley Kubrick as an influence, of which he successfully paid homage throughout Covadonga with his Martin Ravin. In Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket, a character’s psychotic evil is often sold through their eyes – Covadonga’s Martin Ravin is no different, and is potentially the most frightening in ownership of scary eyes.

Though not a prominent feature film actor, like Sean Hartofilis, Matthew Montemaro is positive in his role as The Boy. From acting cool in front of The Girl (Phoenix Catherine) to being either dazed or petrified under the punishment of Martin, Montemaro’s acting is believable in a film of which is far from believable.

A major criticism of Covadonga has to be Martin’s musical performances. Yes, the singing and guitar playing are good – Martin/Sean Hartofilis is not a rubbish musician. Sean Hartofilis is actually a very talented musician outside of film, thus one has to question whether the many songs performed are for the expression of the character or just a showcase of the filmmaker’s non-filmmaking talents. Also in the post-premiere Q&A, Hartofilis was questioned whether he was a filmmaker or musician, and he replied with the former. Additionally in the Q&A, Hartofilis revealed that some of the songs were written for Covadonga, however, a select song was written ten years prior.

As a character study, however, it is of a profound interest to see how individuals cope with loss, as Martin is a widower, and has his former wife buried by the side of the house. Martin’s overly sincere and soft musical performances seem to be his coping mechanism. Incidentally, the title, Covadonga, derives from the village in Spain, of which Martin performs a monologue about, almost on par with Samuel L. Jackson early on in Pulp Fiction.

Ultimately, Covadonga is a tough one to consider because the psychological thriller/horror indie does have many merits, especially in suspense and so on, and the story is fun (though slightly confusing), but there is no hiding from an over-usage of musical performances, of which grow to pose no relevance and distance the viewer from Covadonga’s story, and instead into memorisation of Sean Hartofilis the musician.

1 comment

  1. Dominic,

    Thanks so much for the thorough consideration, insights, and great kindness. Your time and effort in seeing the film and sharing your thoughts is very meaningful to me.

    *3 chapters.
    **No eyeliner.
    ***I’m not a professional musician but am grateful you consider that a possibility.

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