Lately, Dominican cinema has shown itself as adept at making box office oriented popular comedies as it is at making artistically-minded film festival dramas, and now we can add another genre to the list for “The Little Island That Could”: documentary. Over the last year, a Dominican production co-directed by Dominicana Natalia Cabral and Español Oriol Estrada has been quietly making its way through the international festival circuit and racking up accolades along the way.
Tú y yo (You and Me) had its world premiere last year at Switzerland’s renowned documentary festival, Visions du Reel, before picking up an award for Best Feature Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in the fall. Far from finished, Tú y yo will be up for yet another award as part of the 55th Cartagena International Film Festival’s feature documentary competition this March.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, Tú y yo is an observational portrayal of the friendship shared between a white, 70-year-old widow and her black live-in maid. From the trailer we can appreciate the “tú a tú” sincerity and openness of their relationship while perceiving the power dynamics of social class and race lingering just below the surface. Fraught as it may be, it seems clear that this is a portrait of a genuine and complex friendship.
The static, one take style adopted by the filmmakers allows conversations to unfold with candor without interrupting the unintentionally comic verbal polyrhythms of caribbean bochinche. In one vignette, la doña reveals rather matter-of-factly that her brother was killed while drunk in New York. “You can’t just go around drinking!” is la criada’s stock response. “He get’s drunk off the smell!” In another, we find the two bickering over how to appropriately clean the dust off a television set, with la doña snatching away the washcloth to make her point.
But despite the confidence shared between these two women, one reclines in the shade while the other scrubs toilets. One takes a chair to observe the horizon, the other sits on a rock. Ultimately, Tú y yo’s understated approach seems to get at the contradictory heart of a society renowned for its warmth and openness, but racked by deep divisions of class and race.