Film Review: Dólares de Arena
This article is adapted from the Fall 2015 print edition of Americas Quarterly. To subscribe, please click here
“I like your body, did you know?” Anne tells Noelí as they lie in bed with the sun shining through the windows. “How much does it cost?” The scene occurs toward the beginning of Sand Dollars, a film by Mexican-Dominican husband-and-wife directing team Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán that challenges sex tourism stereotypes.
Noelí, a Dominican girl, supports herself and her boyfriend by charging money for sex with tourists like Anne, a French woman approximately 40 years her senior. But the affair is more than mercenary. Anne falls in love with Noelí, whereas Noelí seems ambivalent; she’s focused on going to Europe, like so many other Dominican women hoping to escape poverty and start a new life abroad. However, Noelí’s feelings appear to evolve during the film, as the two women walk along the beach and dance to bachata music.
Sand Dollars was adapted from French author Jean-Noël Pancrazi’s autobiographical novel of the same title, which recounts the relationship between two men. Cárdenas and Guzmán changed the gender of the characters, partly to make it more palatable to nervous funders (they said), but also in an effort to redefine sex tourism and explore the larger themes of migration and human relationships.
“We found out that it’s not just sex people are looking for, but company as well. They come here, they want to stay here, they need a new family, they need a new life; so that’s the way new families are built, and a whole new society,” Guzmán told AQ.
Sand Dollars is the fourth production of the Guzmán-Cárdenas team. Since its debut at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, the film has been sold for distribution in over 10 countries and the cast and directors have won several awards, including the International Federation of Film Critics prize at the Cairo International Film Festival.