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Originally published Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Jean Gentil': Tale of Haitian teacher's hardships divinely told

A movie review of "Jean Gentil," a mesmerizing, beautiful, Old Testament-like tale about a Haitian teacher who falls on hard times, lives in the wild, talks to God and seeks mercy and salvation.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 4 stars

'Jean Gentil,' with Jean Remy Genty. Written and directed by Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán. 84 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French and Haitian Creole, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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A mesmerizing, beautiful drama, "Jean Gentil" is the rare film that teaches one to see. Its very simple story concerns a Haitian teacher, Jean Remy (played by real-life former educator Jean Remy Genty), who loses his job and his apartment in the Dominican Republic, can't land employment elsewhere and gradually slides into a primitive existence in the wild.

Along the way, Jean Remy picks up the odd job — some manual labor, a tutoring gig. He's also occasionally fed or otherwise assisted by strangers. But nothing can stop his overall descent into what feels, sometimes, like a story from the Bible's Old Testament. Indeed, Jean Remy's lonely wanderings through the woods, along beaches and through enormous greenbelts — sometimes confronting or pleading with God to take away his pain and isolation — increasingly become an almost prayerful experience for the audience.

A lot of that experience comes from the film's tone and hauntingly omniscient vision. Co-directors Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán take a page from the playbook of the late French filmmaking master Robert Bresson ("Mouchette") in presenting successive, uncomplicated moments that are each about one idea, one pure action, adding up to a kind of transcendence.

Unlike Bresson, "Jean Gentil's" drama is not compressed but thrillingly expansive via unexpected camerawork: slow zooms, bumpy tracking, even a close-up that gradually ascends over the ocean. This is a film about suffering and grace that lingers in the memory.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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