Jean Gentil | Movie review
A Haitian immigrant ventures into the Dominican countryside.
In the second feature from Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, Haitian Jean Remy Gentil plays “himself,” an immigrant in the Dominican Republic tumbling down the rabbit hole of total dispossession. An accountant fluent in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, Jean is jobless at the film’s beginning. As he flees Santo Domingo for the countryside, his descent is captured with connective tissue largely elided. The larger reason for his despair is only parsimoniously doled out.
Like recent festival favorites such as Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds and Miguel Gomes’s Tabu, Jean Gentil features directorial self-assertion of the boldest kind. There are bird’s-eye shots isolating Jean in both urban and rural landscapes, slow zooms in and out, and the seeming non sequitur deployment of Rafael Nuñez’s score. Showily effective, these gestures compel heightened attention.
But impressive as it is, Jean Gentil is still apprentice work from a talented pair who refuse to settle into any kind of rhythmic groove. Their search for new modes of expression, though admirable, is sometimes unsuccessful. Especially in scenes of Jean alone in the forest, faltering in his faith, the film skirts tedium. Nearly all can be forgiven, however, on the basis of the magnificent final three helicopter shots, providing a record of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake as aestheticized as it is devastating.