Reviewed by Roslin Khan and Romola Lucas
August 2015

YOLANDA, a short film shot in the Dominican Republic, by New York-based, Puerto Rican filmmaker, Cristian Carretero, tells the story of the sacrifices a single mother from a poor village on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, has to make to provide for her family.  It is one of a handful of films reflecting the experiences of poor and mostly black Dominicans, who, as of 1972, began embarking on the illegal and perilous boat trips across the Mona Passage, from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, in search of a better life.

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One of the most striking features of the film, is the main character’s name, “Yolanda.”  On the surface, it is familiar, but put in the context of this film – it takes on a whole new meaning.  Historically, the boats used to taking people to Puerto Rico, were called “yolas.”  The combination of “yola” and “anda” from “andar” (to walk), gives “Yolanda,” which, in this case, means, “boat-run.

What we loved:  the rich visuals.  The film opens with the sound of a motor-bike, as the historical background of the story is presented in writing, on the screen.  The very sound of the fast moving bike suggests speed or flight, pictured by the unclear and rapid intermingling of the lush green vegetation, the blue Caribbean Sea, and the strategic flashes of yellowish-green and red colors.  The lack of clarity and the flashes embody the turbulent state of mind of the Dominicanos undertaking the boat rides, as they balance the need to leave their families behind, with the stealth and perilousness of the journey and the lingering uncertainty of their success, if they do survive the trip.

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The filmmaker also did a great job contrasting the natural beauty of the DR, with the abject poverty, which characterized Yolanda’s village and life-style.  In a recent interview, Carretero said he wanted to “capture the spirit of the place and the people,” and although he wanted to be realistic, he wanted “the reality to have a slightly heightened tone, which becomes dreamlike and wondrous.”  This brings us back to the storytelling technique many Latino writers and storytellers use, “lo real maravilloso/magical realism.”  While Carretero does not actually include the fantastic, his combination of the sound of the bike and the rapid-moving colorful scenery brings it out.

We also loved the natural ease with which the characters, especially Clara Morel as Yolanda, interpret their roles.  In her role, Clara is convincing as a single mother who agonizes before making the decision to make the boat trip, ends up taking her sick son on the perilous journey, and readily negotiates with the boat boss to ensure she and her son get on the boat.  The fact the entire cast seems comfortable in their roles may be attributed to Carretero’s decision to cast people who were familiar with that part of their heritage.

There was no unnecessary dialogue and Carretero, expertly guided the viewer through the story “showing,” not “telling.”  The mother’s silence spoke volumes, as did the baby’s, as she watched the exchange between her mother and grandmother.  This, along with a few strategically inserted clips give the film it’s bittersweet vibe, seeing and appreciating the beauty in the natural environment and life in the Dominican Republic, while at the same time acknowledging the harsh reality of life there.

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Lastly, we loved how Carretero used lighting as an element in his storytelling.  The night scenes with the moon peeking through the darkness suggesting hope, as did the lighthouse, standing tall and proud and kite, flying like a bird – all shown in natural light.

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All in all, though Carretero chose an emotionally-charged subject for the film, his storytelling skills and creativity in portraying the scenery and directing the actors, made for a great viewing experience.


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