Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"The actors make grieving palpable, as sure and solid as the colours caught by Ivan Gierasinchuk." | Photo: Bendita Film Sales/Courtesy Glasgow Film Festival

We start, and will return to, a beach. At first it is the noise of waves in the blackness, before a light, blinding, white. Then more lights, red, blue, red, blue, red.

Blue in the depths of the water, submerged, weighed down, literally. Figuratively with a fright that would never leave you. Not later, not lightly, not remotely. Even at distances of faces lit by screens, Rembrandt with an Apple rather than Night Watch. Yarisa, Yari, Santa elsewhere, and her charge, now adult, Sarah.

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Magnolia Nunez (Yari) and Cecile van Welie (Sara) have a handful of credits each, early in careers that this holds out much promise for. Theirs is the central relationship, the one that is tested now that Sarah's family have moved to what is their 'away', what is Santa's home. Carajita means 'sweetie', a term of endearment, but like any other feminine coded diminutive there may be an edge.

Names matter. Silences too. Dividing lines. Not just below decks but what's on phones passed around. What is proper. What is expected. "I don't want her to think we're disgusting". Between the lines, colour. Rich colour of riches. The green of golf courses, at least by implication. Verdant, tropical, lush greens. Folding green. Green like corruption.

There are places here in the Dominican Republic, gaps. Just off main roads, behind gates, hidden by the lips of infinity pools, tucked into plant pots, through doors off courtyards through other doors. Places reached by money, by power, by stimulants, by accident. Places where phone signals are enough to distract, places where there are stands taken, challenges made. Places where there are people.

There are plenty, most importantly Mallory (Adelanny Padilla), Yarisa's own daughter. She didn't know her mother was home. She comes to visit. Things happen. There was heavy rain, and heavier drinking. She'd gone to a party. Sara too. Only one of them made it home.

It's here that co-directors Ulises Porra and Silvina Schnicer really hit their stride, co-writing also with Ulla Prida. Previous works by the three encompass childhood promises, estranged children, deaths in friendships. Their actors make grieving palpable, as sure and solid as the colours caught by Ivan Gierasinchuk. He's done plenty of work, including the prophetically tinged and period-recreating monochrome of The Medal. Here the footwork is different than tango or boxing but instead muddier, bloodier, shuffling.

Sara's brother, Alvaro (Javier Hermido), her boyfriend of sorts Diego (Dimitri Rivera) have other questions, statements. Beyond corruption a callousness, one that makes walking the edge easier. "I got an A," we're told, in a story that starts with bees. There are connections, but they're not solid. Broken things, scattered. The film leaves it open enough that there are two things, if not more, that might have happened. Neither good. The vigour of its bleakness, the rutted tracks of its fecund desolation, mean this is quite the opposite.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2022
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Sara and her nanny Yarisa have a relationship that seems to transcend their class condition but an accident will test their loyalty.

Director: Ulises Porra, Silvina Schnicer

Writer: Ulises Porra, Ulla Prida, Ulla Prida, Silvina Schnicer

Starring: Cecile van Welie, Magnolia Nunez, Richard Douglas, Adelanny Padilla, Mario Cersósimo, Eduardo Martinez Sturla, Clara Luz Lozano, Yuberbi de la Rosa, Javier Hermida, Génesis Buret

Year: 2021

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Dominican Republic

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