Saturday, February 13, 2016


A living sand dollar is dark with an underside crowded with a thousand little “bristles” or tentacles that cooperate to move food to the central mouth.  When the sand dollar is found dead, looking like a cookie of bone, it is pale and the underside has only grooves and the mouth hole.  I didn’t know this until I googled the creature to see what symbolism might be involved.  Alive=dark; dead=pale.

Geraldine Chaplin

The film is as pared-down and elegant as a high fashion India ink sketch and the two women at the center (mouth) are also as thin, their eyes painted.  We know at once we’re looking at Geraldine Chaplin because of the dot under each eye.  But we are used to seeing her as a gamine — I’m not sure there is a name for the type she is now, but maybe examples would help:  

Isak Dinesen

Edith Sitwell

Audrey Hepburn

Louise Nevelson

Georgia O'Keefe

Small, dark and intense.  Worldly, elegant, intelligent.

Or maybe it would be helpful to think of a good contrast , like the way I am aging.  I looked a little like these two when I was young and now I look like them in old age.

Shelley Winters

Simone Signoret

Of course, since I’m round, rosy, buxom, even blowsy, I long to be like the dark slender ones.  And since the culture agrees with my stereotype, they expect me to be stupid and naive.  There is one way I can escape this, which is to “go black.”  When I was living in Portland, I got off the bus after work in front of a large-sizes dress store patronized by black women.  I made the most of it. Stepping into another culture can be salvation.

This movie “Sand Dollars” matches the physical types of two women: ultra slender and beautiful, but one “black” and one white, one rich and one poor, one young and one old, both presumably “hetero” but adaptable.  What a person sees in this movie depends upon their assumptions.  One reviewer said he wanted to know more about gold-diggers and the age gap.  Another thought nothing happened.  

Of the professional reviewers, Slant: Elise Nakhnikian said:
Sand Dollars's soft-focus backgrounds and rich silvery and gold tones highlight both Mojica's beauty and the gorgeous, relatively wild seaside settings, while the velvety darkness, silhouetted bodies, and flashing colored lights of the club create an intimate alternative to the outdoors where almost all the rest of the action takes place.”

Owing to Cárdenas and Guzmán’s observational style, the characters come to embody certain tendencies of their post-colonial condition without ever becoming cogs in an allegorical machine. If the film occasionally feels too familiar – Sand Dollars fits comfortably into the “post-Dardennes international film festival film.”  It took a bit of research to discover they mean after the Dardennes brothers, a film team who won prizes for naturalistic films about youngsters on the edge of society.

The lesbians want to see this femme/femme relationship as “theirs,” but I see it as an old woman looking past color to her own youth and the young woman seeing only glamour and privilege — until she realizes she is pregnant.  Then her boyfriend wins.  The most miraculous event in the film is that he gets a job.

There are curious and subtle valences here.  The big handsome black man who manages the house: opening the shutters, tying back the mosquito net, cleaning the windows.  He never interacts.  Then there’s a queenly Brit older man who has seen it all and is quick to advise.  There’s a modern version of the woman the old woman had once been, flashing eyes and teeth.  

The old woman swims, she swims, she swims, but she doesn’t drown.  At the end we see her floating through the dancing crowd in a jacket that glimmers.  Once I lay on my stomach on a pier and saw the water phosphorescent with tiny organisms.  Every fish was outlined, as well as my own submerged hands.

No doubt I’d have to see this film about six more times before I could get anything really deeply meaningful out of it, but I just wanted the experience of it.  The main thing I see on a first viewing is not about sex or money, or even about sex tourism or the intoxication of out-of-reality tropical paradises.   It is simply pleasure, the kind that is spiked with pain. 

This is what the directors say:

Sand Dollars was born from our wish to portray a world full of contradictions, contradictions that go from parties and vacations, to love, betrayal, pleasure, morality and loneliness. This is the world that emerges from the book "Les dollars des sables" written by the French author, Jean-Noël Pancrazi; that world is, in a certain way, Las Terrenas: the town where we previously filmed "Jean Gentil," a place where Dominicans from the countryside coexist with other Dominicans from the capital, and also with a group of Europeans that have lived there for years, some of them even considered as founders of this new life here.
The film is a very free adaptation of the novel "Les dollars des sables", using elements that contribute to create an atmosphere, Anne and Noeli’s intimate world: an impossible relationship, concern for one another and loneliness.

In the novel “Les Dollars des Sables” by Jean-Noel Pancrazi -- I read somewhere -- the characters are male or maybe just one of them is male, and he has written within the gay French background before, which would raise expectations for some people.  He grew up in Algeria, which tells you something else.

Clearly, Geraldine likes Jean-Noel!

It would be best to ignore claims from sub-groups and just respond to the ambience, the beauty and the poignance.

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