Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Campo’

Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Campo’

Director Tiago Hespanha attempts nothing less than an inquiry into the elusive nature of existence itself in Campo. Using a prominent military base just outside of Lisbon as his starting point, Hespanha weaves a series of observational vignettes, subtly probing the ever-expanding connections between man and his environment.

On the Alcochete Firing Range, as much care is put into military training drills as the preservation of the area’s natural wildlife, resulting in a jarring intermingling of the two. So while soldiers test explosives and fire weapons, various kinds of wildlife roam the natural landscape, ambivalent to the intrusive human occupants. Meanwhile, astronomers stop by to watch the stars and ponder the universe and a boy living just outside of the perimeter plays piano to set a score for the mock firefights playing out in the distance. What does it all mean?

As the filmmaker’s hushed narration recounts myths like that of Prometheus to demonstrate man’s folly in trying to one-up the natural order of things, Campo can sometimes strain under the weight of its own pretentiousness. Some segments can also be a little on the nose, momentarily piercing the dreamlike atmosphere, as when a logger determines the old age of the tree he just felled and is then asked by the filmmaker to compare that to the minutes it took to come down. Okay, we get it, life and death and all that.

And yet the juxtaposition of gorgeous imagery accumulates a beguiling kind of allure that grows more hypnotic as it progresses, eventually going out with a bang in a raucous final sequence. Hespanha may not solve any existential mysteries here, but he puts us all – human, animal, plant, matter – on the same level playing field as we hurtle through space together on this confusing journey.

  • Release Date: 4/25/2019
This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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