'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
'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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org