New Dominican Film vying for Oscar: Love Child (La Hija Natural)

A daughter and father reunite after many years with unexpected consequences in Leticia Tonos’ “Love Child,” a small-scale, engagingly told debut whose charms outweigh its flaws. Set in a rural village in the Dominican Republic where nothing happens quickly, the film is a winsome mix of romance, magical realism, folksy humor and mild suspense, all of it serving to affectionately portray a community where Old World attitudes and superstitions are struggling to survive. The first film from the Dominican Republic to be helmed solely by a woman, it is seeking Academy consideration for best foreign-language feature, as Jonathan Holland reports in Variety.

When her mother, Juana (Kalent Zaiz), is hit and killed by a runaway truck at their farmstead, 18-year-old María (Julietta Rodríguez), inspired by the romantic visions of a soap opera she’s seen, called “Love Child,” decides to seek out her own father, Joaquín (Victor Checo), a “good-for-nothing” living in a nearby town.

María finds Joaquín living with handicapped Haitian assistant Polo Montifa (Gastner Legerme, superb) on his banana plantation, in a house supposedly haunted by the ghost of Joaquín’s second wife. (The characters and, importantly, the script believe in the possibility of ghosts.) Unsurprisingly, Joaquín is somewhat put out by María’s arrival, which only adds to his troubles, since neighbor Mélido (Dionos Rufino) is challenging Joaquín for his land.

Underneath the slight storyline, the picture makes a serious point about the difficulties remote rural societies have in freeing themselves from the past’s iron grip. Machismo, as repped here by Joaquín, still mostly goes unchallenged. But because Tonos has based her film on observation of how things are rather than on propaganda about how they should be, audiences seeking a feminist message may find the film’s upbeat conclusion a little too forgiving of Joaquín’s dreadful sexism.

The casting adroitly mixes pros and newcomers, with some of the actors seeming to be playing versions of themselves. María is the only female character with a major role (though the ghost of Joaquín’s second wife exercises a “Rebecca”-like power over things), and Julietta Rodríguez does fine, subdued work as a stoical woman used to submission who has learned to keep herself out of trouble.

But the standouts are the compellingly watchable Legerme and vet Checo as the grumpy, misanthropic and fundamentally insecure Joaquín, driving around in a wonderfully beaten-up yellow Chevrolet, cursing a world that’s moving too quickly for comfort.

Visually, the picture is unfailingly attractive, its palette dominated by the earth’s intense greens and the intense blue of the island sky. Miguel Hiraldo’s score is mournful solo guitar fare, somewhat overused, but representing a nice contrast to the sprightly bachata pieces that pop up from time to time.

Camera (color), Sonnel Velazquez; editor, Raul Marchand Sanchez; music, Miguel Hiraldo; art director, Giselle Madera; set decorator, Natalia Veloz; costume designer, Ferdinando Erbetti; sound (Dolby Digital), David Hernández. Reviewed on DVD, Madrid, Nov. 29, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.

A Linea Espiral, Islafilms production. (International sales: Kevin Williams Associates, Madrid.) Produced by Leticia Tonos. Executive producers, Zunilda Paniagua, Angel Muñiz. Directed, written by Leticia Tonos.

With: Julietta Rodríguez, Victor Checo, Gastner Legerme, Dionos Rufino, Andrés “Velcro” Ramos, Kalent Zaiz, Frank Perozo, Jochy Santos, Vickiana.

For the original report go to

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