Jean Gentil


Although it’s steeped in tragedies both personal and cultural, this contemplative, gorgeously shot documentary-fiction hybrid from husband-and-wife auteurs Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán nevertheless keeps an unsentimental distance from its titular saint-savant and the existential crisis he endures. That’s doubly impressive considering Jean Gentil‘s star/subject—the meek but inexplicably commanding Jean Remy Genty—is a friend of the filmmakers. A Haitian immigrant in the Dominican Republic in real life and in the movie, Jean (celluloid version) is forced to look for work in Santo Domingo after losing his job as a French and English teacher along with his living quarters. Things go from bad to worse—Jean’s unwavering Christianity, presumably a support in more stable times, mostly keeps him from making social and ethical compromises that could lead to new work and ultimately drives him deeper into confused, self-defeating cynicism. In a turn reminiscent of J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K., Jean resorts to rural homelessness, where a few odd jobs, furtive connections, and the solace of nature imply but never assure a tenuous redemption. This is dark, heady stuff, but Cárdenas and Guzmán neither shortchange the rigor of Jean’s spiritual inquiry (his frequent prayers press God on the possibility that He’s an inscrutable fraud) nor ignore the meaningful everyday intimacies that elude the middle-age professor. And, with the exception of its near–non sequitur climactic aerial pan of earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince (captured after primary shooting was complete), Jean Gentil is informed by regional strife rather than dominated by it. Timely as it is, Cárdenas and Guzmán’s film suggests something universal in Jean’s plight: The cosmic and systemic indifference that paralyzes him, like the film’s disorientingly hyper-focused jungle tableaux, reveals no single clear path.