Sand Dollars

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Directed by Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas

Sand Dollars is a delicate and heartbreaking portrayal of a relationship between two women that defies our judgements and is a testament to the fact that love manifests in many ways. Directed and written by Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, Sand Dollars is the best film to come from the husband and wife duo as of yet, and tells a story of love and loneliness on the dreamy shores of the Dominican Republic.

The narrative itself is simple and subtle. A young Dominican woman, Noeli (Yanet Mojica), who is caught up in a life of sex tourism is forced to make money the only way she knows how. One of the lovers she has taken is Anne (Geraldine Chaplin)- an aging French lady who has fallen madly in love with her. The film flits between cocktail infused nights of dancing, and sun washed scenes in the tropical outdoors, all the while underpinned by the question of whether Noeli will choose to be with Anne or her boyfriend Yeremi (Ricardo Ariel Toribio).

But while the story is simple, it is certainly not basic. The complexities of the love between Noeli and Anne unfold in ways that deny any judgement we may place on these two women. At times Noeli is a manipulative money maker who exploits a woman who loves her, yet other times she is a vulnerable young girl who is making a living in a hostile world. Likewise, there are moments when the camera brings to light the glaring age disparity between the two women, making us question if we should blame Anne for taking advantage of a young girl, but at times the pain, loneliness and love in her eyes make it impossible to cast judgement. As the story develops, our expectations and our opinions of these two characters are consistently being brought into question and we are forced to recognise that this film is about more than the exploitative world of sex tourism.

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in Sand Dollars
Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in Sand Dollars

In fact, both women need each other in their individual ways and that is what Guzman and Cardenas communicate so beautifully. Neither woman is naí¯ve enough to believe they would be in this situation if money were not at play. Yet, at the same time, money is not the only reason why they continue to be drawn to each other. Throughout the film we get the sense that Noeli has grown to love her companion and protector – maybe not in the same way she loves Yeremi, but in an entirely different way. To relay the age-old cliché, Noeli loves but she is not in love.

If there is one thing that stood out in this film, it is Geraldine Chaplin’s performance as the aging Anne. Chaplin brings the character to life and, while we are told very little about her home life or past, we feel as though we understand the pain and loneliness that Anne is burying. Whether it is drinking, delving too deep into the currents of the ocean, or sleeping with a girl 40 years her junior, Anne simply wants to feel something. Chaplin’s eyes tell a story in Sand Dollars, and without her heart breaking and raw characterisation, the film would not be anywhere near as poignant as it is.

What Guzmán and Cárdenas have given us in Sand Dollars is a story of love in an unlikely place. It’s not a story of exploitation, or romance, or even unrequited love, but it is a story of mutual need, of pain, and of the universal need to fill certain voids in our lives. This is a film that will undermine the stereotypes you might heap onto it, and in doing so, it will remind you that people are rarely as simple as they seem.

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