Dólares de arena
Director: Israel Cárdenas, Laura Amelia Guzmán
Writer: Israel Cárdenas, Laura Amelia Guzmán
Based on: Jean-Noél Pancrazi‘s novel
Cast: Yanet Mojica, Geraldine Chaplin, Ricardo Ariel Toribio
Part of: Viennale
[Review by cornholio.]
Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) has been going to the Dominican Republic on her holidays for years and years. And every year there is Noeli (Yanet Mojica) who is one of the many sex workers who spend the holidays as the companion of one of the tourists, partly encouraged by her boyfriend Menor (Ricardo Ariel Toribio). Anne is aware of Noeli’s job, but she finds herself falling for the younger woman, and even hoping that Noeli might feel the same way, while Noeli just tries to find a way to a better life.
Dólares de arena turned into quite another love story than what I expected from the description, but arguably it was the better story. It’s a distinctly political film, clad in beautiful shots and good acting.
From the way Dólares de arena was introduced in the Viennale program, I thought we’d get a love story between Anne and Noeli and I was curious how they’d pull that one off without becoming icky – since there is an inherent power imbalance in sex worker/client, especially in this (post-)colonial setting. So when it turned out that the love story was the one between Noeli and Menor, I was positively surprised, despite the fact that Menor was an asshole and I am generally in favor of more representation of mogii love stories.
That was particularly good because it meant that Guzmán and Cárdenas were able to focus on the aspect of (post-)colonialism that dictated the relationship between Noeli and Anne, despite Anne’s well-meaning intentions. It worked especially well when the film stuck with Noeli’s perspective (which was most of the time) but it meant that the parts that focused only on Anne dragged a little.
It was also an interesting choice to make it a case of lesbian sex tourism. From what I gather, in the novel both protagonists are male and most stories about sex tourism or sex work in general is with male clients and/or male sex workers. That this wasn’t the case here contributed, on the one hand, to the focus on (post-)colonialism because it removed the layer of male-female gender relations (which is also a loss), but on the other hand it left me wondering whether lesbian sex tourism is really that much of an issue. Would be interesting to investigate further.
But apart from the political messages, the film is also a good film. The performances are excellent and especially Yanet Mojica has a force to be reckoned with on screen. The camera work is wonderful and gives us some great shots. The pacing is mostly good and there are only a few scenes where I wanted things to go a little faster.
In the audience talk after the film the inevitable comparison with Paradies: Liebe came up. It would be interesting to examine both of the films and compare them with each other but what the person asking wanted to focus on was the fact that it’s always unattractive women who are looking to sex work for which I wanted to slap them. I mean, a) Geraldine Chaplin might be old and Margarete Tiesel might be fat, but I’d argue that they are both beautiful people and b) even if we’re talking about that on a societal level they wouldn’t be considered beautiful, what we’re doing is completely shifting away from the racial / (post-) colonial issues and towards the poor white people and fuck that shit.