One of the Cine Latino features at this year’s Spanish Film Festival is the heart-wrenching feature from the Dominican Republic, Carajita.
Teenager Sara lives a privileged existence, with wealthy parents. Her and her brother’s nanny Yarisa has been with them their whole lives, and Sara and Yarisa have become very close. When the family moves from Santa Domingo to the small town that is Yarisa’s hometown, she rekindles a relationship with her daughter, who is around the same age as Sara. When tragedy hits, the class divisions of post-colonial Central America are laid bare.
The directing-writing team of Ulises Porra and Silvina Schnicer have put together a cinematic master-work. Carjita somehow manages to work at both a rollicking pace, and a slow-burn: the former in narrative arc terms, the latter in psychological terms. The emotionally uncomfortable place of the nanny is explored: are Sara and Yarisa employer/employee? Friends? Sisters? Surrogate mother and daughter? Audience investment is gradually moved from these unusual family dynamics to the broader social dynamics of post-colonial Latin America, where an employee can be little more than a slave with a wage.
Cecile van Welie gives a beautifully understated performance as Sara. This is not the predictable trope of the spoiled brat, but rather a young woman, caught up in circumstances not of her own choosing. The wonderful Magnolia Nunez takes centre-stage as Yarisa, delivering emotional complexity with clarity and authenticity. The supporting cast is nothing short of outstanding: even the smallest role makes an impact.
Carajita, as well as having important things to say, is a cinematic delight. Close shots, with dialogue happening off-screen, engender a sense of intimacy. The camera lingers long enough to build emotional suspense, without drawing it out. Small, quotidian details, tell much of the story. Porra and Schnicer don’t just place all their bets on the dialogue. And the oppressive, tropical weather asserts itself as almost a character in its own right. Combine all this with great music by Andres Rodriguez, and you have cinema at its best.
Carajita screens as part of the Moro Spanish Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend.
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