Review: ‘Campo’

Hot Docs 2019

2 mins read

(Portugal, 100 minutes)
Dir. Tiago Hespanha
Programme: Animal Magnetism (North American Premiere)

Shot at the Alcochete firing range, one of the largest military bases in Europe, Campo presents a mix of contradictions. Showing soldiers as they train, as well as the animal life that surrounds them, Tiago Hespanha overlays his film with a philosophical narration which draws on creation myths, while grappling with the central conflict of the word “campo”: in Latin, it means both a field where animals are raised as well as where soldiers are trained. Bringing together the etymological tension of the term with the real-life contrast of life and death, human and animal, Hespanha’s documentary reaches towards a lyrical meditation on very present topics.

Campo is not bad, but it is also not great. The bucolic scenes of bee-keeping, bird watching, and shepherding, which pad out the bloody military sections, offer little aesthetic diversity to truly set them apart, and so these animal moments lack a serenity which could really make it a counterpoint the human. The contrast between nature and human life is not distinct enough to make a lasting impression, nor is it similar enough to make an impact. Visually, the film is fairly monotonous — which works to an extent when depicting soldier life as bare bones and raw. But as an all-encompassing aesthetic, it feels dulled where one is hungry for a flourish of style.

Hespanha’s film is still interesting. We are welcomed to truly understand the brutality of military training, though the film is lacking a lush visual style that would have pushed the nature segments further, and added a broader aesthetic range which would have given balance to the film’s otherwise stark look. Though not at impactful as it should have been, Campo is nevertheless an intriguing reflection on humanity’s relation to the world.

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