As a hurricane approaches the Dominican Republic, a bedazzled entertainer tells us that it will fall in love with us, but the entitled, wealthy daughter of a corporate bigwig, Sera Peñablanca (Sarah Jorge León), who slums at a nightclub called La Remora, is about to bring untold misery to the life of the drag queen who performs there, “Candela.”
Laura's Review: B+
Adapting a book by Rey Andújar, cowriter (with Laura Conyedo)/director Andrés Farías’ stylish, stunningly photographed (by cinematographer Saurabh Monga) neo noir gives LGBTQ and immigration twists to the noir tropes it honors, its approaching storm reminiscent of “Key Largo.” Farias chapters his film in three parts, ‘Futile Gestures’ introducing his corrupt femme fatale, ‘Man Overboard’ profiling his jaded cop and ‘The Black Prince’ showcasing his titular performer. The Dominican Republic has created a growing film industry via tax incentives, studio facilities and production services and “Candela” is a wowza of homegrown achievement.
Sera, whose upper floor luxury apartment balcony’s wind chimes both mask and enhance the sound of winds picking up, is seen trying on a wedding dress before attending a corporate bash where her male companion is hostile as is talk of Haitian immigrants. At home, we hear her call her dad to say she ‘can’t go through with it,’ before sashaying into a club in hooker heels and a skin tight sequined mini dress. She appears mesmerized by Candela’s (César Domínguez) performance, but her real aim just might be the anonymous sex she has in an alley with a ponytailed man in a polyester shirt. But after snorting lines of coke before her next visit, she sets her sights on Renato Castrate (Richarson Díaz), the man Candela exchanges meaningful glances with from the stage, and when he expresses no interest in return, kidnaps him at gunpoint for sexual favors.
The second chapter finds Pérez (Félix Germán) at Sera’s apartment, now a crime scene. The middle aged man used to think he could do good, but has grown weary with systemic corruption. His only comfort is the call girl, Morena (Ruth Emeterio), across the hall. Lubrini (Candela’s real name) begs him for news of the man he’s been searching for and Pérez doesn’t have the heart to tell him he’s already dead, but when Renato’s death is ruled a suicide, he won’t let it drop.
In the last chapter, we see how the loss of Renato impacts his lover, not only emotionally, but financially. Lubrini is now the sole caregiver to Renato’s grandmother, a woman suffering from dementia. Then we learn Renato had a dangerous debt hanging over his head and when Lubrini turns to illegal means to make some quick cash, he’ll end up in even more dire straits which take a most ironic turn.
Production designer Giselle Madera has a great sense of shape and color, each segment given its own palette. When Sera sits across from Renato in her modern, minimalist, lilac hued living room, the ornamentation hanging above them subtly signals their sexuality. Pérez inhabits a world of dull gold, olive and browns, the drabness alleviated when he crosses his hallway. The film’s sound mix is also notable, those wind chimes and the playing of a glass rim obscuring escalating threats. The screenplay is often literary, Renato a poet whose recital hints at his fate. Water is a frequent symbol, from the approaching hurricane to a swim in the sea, spa visit or flooded apartment building. Even the club’s name, La Remora, refers to a parasitic fish.
“Candela” is a moody Caribbean neo noir from a debuting feature filmmaker that deserves an audience and should help put the Dominican Republic on the filmmaking map.
Robin's Review: B
A hurricane threatens the capital of the Dominican Republic and the lives of three people – a society woman who likes to slum, a lonely police lieutenant with a past and a drag queen performer – will all be impacted before it strikes in “Candela.”
Assistant director turned first-time feature film auteur, Andres Farias, takes his camera to Santo Domingo as a huge hurricane barrels into the Caribbean. From here, we follow three lives and watch as these lives intertwine.
Sera (Sarah Jorge Leon) is a privileged young woman engaged to marry a very wealthy man she does not love. But, she has a rebellious streak and has a penchant to go to the seedy side of town to play the bad girl role she imagines.
Perez (Felix German) is an alcoholic and lonely cop who has given up both his profession and his life but needs to solve one last case. Lubrini (Cesar Dominguez) is the headliner at a posh nightclub in the city under the titular name of Cordela. His story, to me, is the most compelling as he lives a dual life – a popular star at a cabaret and a disdained member of society for his queerness.
At the center of these three lives, especially Cordela, is Renato (Richarson Diaz), a poet and drug dealer whose demise effects all. You meet the character just briefly but his presence resonates through the story.
Of the three characters, I found Lubrini the most interesting. Perez comes in second with his almost hangdog performance and Sera last as the selfish young woman who might have good reason for being so. You have to figure it out for yourself.
The neon-soaked nighttime setting, though dark, is also crisply shot by the keen eye of Sauabh Monga and represents a character unto itself in both the film and the story.
Breaking Glass Pictures releases “Candela” on digital platforms on 10/10/23.