Magazine article Screen International

Sand Dollars

Magazine article Screen International

Sand Dollars

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Laura Amelia Guzman, Israel Cardenas. Dominican Republic-Mexico-Argentina. 2014. 85mins

Imagine a single-sex version of Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Love, directed with compassion and transposed to the Dominican Republic, and you're getting close to the spirit of this delicate, honest tale of the relationship between a French grandmother - played with slow-burn passion and commitment by Geraldine Chaplin - and a young Dominican girl. A little swamped on its debut in the lucky dip of Toronto, the film has resurfaced in the 'Cinema of Today' section at the Rome Film Festival.

It's a film with a restless motion, a film about people in transit (on motorbikes, on foot, in life), in which the question of whether to stay or whether to go, and if so where, takes on a special, existential resonance.

It's a film which deserves greater exposure - something that will no doubt come, at first, through further festival play. But Sand Dollars (Dolares de Arena) has enough audience appeal to work theatrically beyond the micro-markets reached by the directing duo's last feature, immigration docu-drama Jean Gentil.

The wife and husband directing team set the scene with an admirable economy of means. Five or six cuts in, after just a few lines of dialogue, we already know that svelte young Noeli (Mojica) with her insouciant face and her hoop earrings makes a living by befriending rich foreigners in an upscale Dominican beach resort (actually Las Terrenas). We know too, as soon as he helps her sell a necklace given to her by a perma-tanned Italian client, that her boyfriend (Toribio) is happy to live off her earnings.

But Noeli's main client is female, not male - Anne (Chaplin), a solitary, ageing Frenchwoman who lives in a beachcomber-chic cottage by the sea (part of a hotel, we later discover). She seems to need the young girl as much for companionship as for sex, and has a plan to take her back to France with her. They do simple things together - swim, talk, walk on the beach, and lie with bodies entwined, Noeli's smooth black skin contrasting with Anne's wrinkled whiteness, the latter only enhanced by her badly-applied, permanently smudged eyeliner. The boyfriend - a gentle enough guy of Noeli's own age with whom she seems to be more or less in love - is there in the background, wary, jealous but also conflicted by his need for the money Noeli brings home. …

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