In a scene from Groundhog Day, the temporal saga from the late Harold Ramis, a character notices something different during his day in constant repetition. “Good or bad?” asks another, to which the first replies: “Anything different is good”. This phrase may cross your mind multiple times while watching De Pez en Cuando (Once Upon a Fish), a new and irreverent Dominican film from director Francisco Adolfo Valdez and producer Humberto ‘Che’ Castellanos. The prayers of all local film fans complaining “I’m sick of them always filming the same crap” have been answered. The question remains: will they be pleased?
De Pez en Cuando in a Nutshell
The plot, at its core, is not so different from the screwball comedies that keep the local theaters packed. Ben (José Luis Germán) is a writer with a strange inner monologue which frequently addresses him a “Benjamin Suárez Anastacio”, his full name. The life of this lonely and depressed individual changes after a minor traffic accident where he meets María Luisa (Itahisa Machado), a sexy stewardess.
Ben agrees to look after María Luisa’s goldfish, which she carries in her vehicle, in exchange for a date, but realizes that the mysterious girl is being watched by not one but two pairs of thugs: young Hugo and Rico (Jalsen Santana and Vladimir Acevedo, respectively), plus the stone-faced Tripitaka (Manolo Ozuna) and his not-so-clever sidekick, Eliseo (Phillip Rodríguez, who gets the best joke of the whole film).
The situation gets more tangled with the presence of Rey (Carlos Alfredo Fatule), Ben’s landlord neighbor; Carmencita (Camila Santana), Rey’s cynical daughter; Sofía (Hony Estrella), a friend of Ben with a self-admitted crazy streak; Juan (Irving Alberti), Sofía’s jealous husband; an electrician/plumber (Manuel Raposo) and multiple taxi drivers played by Dominican comedians such as Tony Pascual and Aquiles Correa.
Fishing for Uniqueness
Where Valdez, as writer and director, changes this formula is in the execution. The world created by Valdez, Castellanos and his team is a candy coated version of Santo Domingo, consisting of saturated and pleasurable primary colors, which sometimes channel the aesthetics of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the ambience of the Coen brothers. The work of production designer Ruy Dos Santos, art director Oliver Wood Rivas, costume designer Gina Terc and the graphical touches by the Modafoca design firm deserve special mention here.
Verosimilitude (Say That Ten Times Fast!)
Yes, I’m aware the situation the film suggests is preposterous. Yet none of the actors ever goes to histrionics, giving their performances and the film the necessary credibility. The possible exception to this is Hony Estrella, who can afford to overact since she got the role of a hormonally charged pregnant woman.
Another interesting decision here, uncommon to Dominican films, was to cast certain actors against type. Ozuna, often used as good or cowardly, makes a convincing thug. Germán, who recently played an annoying gay/metrosexual type in Vamos de robo, is quite good as a miserable guy reacting to a strange situation. Even Fatule, the weakest link in the cast, shows he is willing to make a fool of himself for the sake of the material.
De Pez en Cuando is an ambitious and daring comedy for the Dominican market. For brief moments it even becomes inconsistent, a victim like Icarus of its own aspirations. However, it takes another big meaningful step on the road towards a visual and intelligent Dominican cinema. It may be a fish out of water, but it shows it off with pride and deserves our attention.
Movie title: De Pez en Cuando
Movie description: Deserves credit for trying something completely fresh in Dominican cinema.
Date published: 2014-03-06
Director(s): Francisco Adolfo Valdez
Actor(s): José Luis Germán, Itahisa Machado, Jalsen Santana, Hony Estrella, Carlos Alfredo Fatule, Irving Alberti, Camila Santana, Vladimir Acevedo, Manolo Ozuna, Phillip Rodríguez, Manuel Raposo, Tony Pascual, Aquiles Correa