Not yet seen by Rich.
Cristo Rey tells the story of “Janvier,” (James SaintiL) the son of a Dominican man and Haitian immigrant woman, living in the culturally mixed neighborhood of Santo Domingo. Thanks to his half-heritage from his father “Món,” (Arturo Lopez) who fathers sons from previous marriage, Janvier is allowed to stay in Santo Domingo with his mother “Laurence” (Marie Michelle Bazile).
The film opens with a vibrant percussion ensemble playing makeshift instruments, drumming on half-empty water drums and overturned metal garbage cans. The credits inform the audience that these energetic people have fled Haiti and are illegal immigrants, setting up the rest of the film. The story picks up when police officer “Coronel Montilla” (Jalsen Santana) rounds up the black-looking people, presumably all Haitians. Chasing after Janvier, the officer is threatened by fierce and energetic Laurence, who pops out of nowhere with a machete. Before Laurence can stop the arrest, she is hit over the head and deported back to Haiti while Janvier is taken to a holding cell. Once Laurence is sent back to Port-au-Prince, she telecommunicates with her family, informing them she will be staying with her cousin… and then, unfortunately, disappears from the film.
From there, the story proceeds in a routine way. Janvier is released from prison, clearly tense about being in limbo between his Dominican and Haitian heritage. But with his mother gone, Janvier finds friendship and guidance from his tailor “Don Manuel” (Salvador Perez Martinez). Even though he’s Dominican, Don Manuel looks after Janvier and tries to keep him on the right side of things. Unlike his delinquent half-brother “Rudy,” (Yasser Michelén) Janvier uses his mechanical talents to work odd jobs. But the dark/light dynamic between angry Rudy and clever Janvier throws the film off balance.
Of course, in the middle of everything, is the beautiful girl who Rudy loves – “Jocelyn,” (Akari Endo) the younger sister of the neighborhood drug kingpin, “El Bacá” (Leonardo Vasquez). Jocelyn, a singer at her convent school, tries to lead a good and pure life outside of the drug deals. Wanting to protect his sister, El Bacá hires Janvier to be a Jocelyn’s bodyguard – obviously an invitation for disaster.
James Saintil plays Janvier as a wonderful, saintly mix of Haitian, bringing energy and commitment to a two-dimensional story. Leticia Tonos does fabulous job directing, but as a co-screenwriter, disappoints the vivid world she’s created on the screen. Although the cinematography and the soundtrack are fantastic, the story leaves a lot to be desired.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/05/14)
Photo: The Haitian illegal immigrants are rounded up and taken out of Santo Domingo
Q: Does Cristo Rey pass the Bechdel Test?
Not really. Jocelyn has a school friend, but they do not really have any conversations. She’s mostly there trying to look after Jocelyn. So technically “yes,” but really “no.” The focus is mainly on Janvier in a man’s world. Jocelyn and Laurence, unfortunately, are very much on the sidelines.