I’ve made my peace with remakes. In my formative years I made it my point to know if a certain song or a film was a revamped, plagiarized or adapted version of some other source material, in order to feel in-the-know and able to debate about it with anyone. Eventually I grew out of that “proto-hipster” stage and learned to enjoy each version of the same idea for its individual virtues. La Extraña (The Stranger), the latest installment of filmmaking “made in the Dominican Republic”, is being sold as their first national remake of an international film. The flick, if nothing else, intrigued me enough to want to go watch the original.
La Extraña in a Nutshell
The plot of La Extraña focuses on Jean Louis (Frank Perozo), a Santo Domingo book editor guilt-ridden from the accident that handicapped his wife Gaia (Laura García Godoy), but not enough to remain faithful to her. He drives alone one weekend to the Casa de Campo resort in La Romana in order to relax, concentrate on writing his own book and maybe get a little frisky with his “lover” Lucy (Yorlla Lina Castillo). However, upon arrival he meets a mysterious woman who calls herself Rosa (Evelyna Rodríguez) and keeps looking over her shoulder whenever they aren’t making passionate love to one another. The film explores both the physical and emotional relationship between Jean Louis and Rosa, which unravels the couple’s innermost secrets during three very intense days.
As mentioned before, the movie’s main selling point is that it’s a tropical reimagining of L’Etrángère, (a.k.a Sex with a Stranger or Sin with a Stranger) the 1968 French film that made Italian director Sergio Gobbi famous. I haven’t seen it myself, but not for lack of trying. It is very hard to come by these days. No Criterion Collection DVD release on Amazon, no bootleg VHS on eBay, no streaming of it anywhere. Were it not for all the info about it online, not to mention all the vintage posters available for auction, you could question whether it ever existed at all. Its plot, according to web sources such as UniFrance Films, is basically the same as this revamp, except that in the original version everything takes place inside a train.
Which brings me to the reason why I used to be so adamant about remakes and adaptations: they really shouldn’t exist unless they can honestly improve on the source material or at the very least add to it something creative and worthwhile. For instance, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Mou gaan dou (Infernal Affairs) and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed share the same plot, and even a few nearly identical scenes, yet Scorsese added enough Boston personality (and expletives) to his version that it stands out on its own (its four Oscar wins, including Best Picture and Best Director, support this notion). I find La Extraña doesn’t achieve this even though I admit I’m basing my decision on a third-party review of a movie I haven’t watched.
Think about it: for all its beautiful tropical landscapes and exclusivity, Casa de Campo is big and hardly impenetrable. When Jean Louis starts witnessing Rosa’s strange behavior, there is absolutely nothing keeping him from getting in his car and driving back to civilization. I don’t believe any person would stay as long as he does in that situation no matter how intense his inner turmoil is or how hot the sex might be. Now place the same set of incidents inside a narrow, metallic rolling fortress of steam. There is no way he can escape from the girl’s charms, nowhere to run if she turns out to be dangerous and not only misunderstood. Suddenly it’s all more intimate, more claustrophobic. Do you see my point?
Courage Under Fire
But like I said before, I made my peace with remakes. What’s important is that a film stand on its own and I don’t think La Extraña does. Like in his 2006 film, Ruido, director César Rodríguez has a knack for taking great premises and not developing them to their full potential. To be fair, his movie looks and sounds great (it showcases the best sound mixing I’ve ever heard in a Dominican movie), plus both of his stars give it their all. Evelyna Rodríguez, in particular, is a real trooper. She’s good looking; she’s proven convincing, strong-willed and even funny in other projects like Quiero Ser Fiel; also it takes courage to film sex scenes and play mental instability, especially in a Dominican art scene where taboos and morbidity abound and ruin careers. However, in spite of all her efforts, Evelyna’s character never becomes truly compelling.
Achieving both suspense and sensuality in film is hard these days. You never feel either during La Extraña. Although there isn’t anything particularly wrong with it, it’s not serious enough to be psychologically believable nor silly enough to be enjoyed in a pulpy, noir, Tarantino-esque way. Its stakes are never clear, its sex scenes run too long and the whole enterprise feels more like a tourism video than a thriller. Still, maybe enough people see it and become curious about the original that we get a re-release or, better yet, a boxed-set disc with both versions. Anything to bring attention to the oldies.
Movie title: La Extraña
Movie description: A weird and entertaining thriller that never really clicks but does call attention to its source material.
Date published: 2014-05-26
Director(s): César Rodríguez
Actor(s): Frank Perozo, Laura García Godoy, Yorlla Lina Castillo
Genre: Suspense, Drama, Thriller