Transactional relationships are conducted without moral judgment in Sand Dollars, the Dominican Republic’s foreign-language Academy Award submission. Lithe Noelí (Yanet Mojica) finds a steady stream of companions in Las Terrenas, a beach town brimming with European tourists and expats. They reward her attention with cash and gifts, which she splits with boyfriend Yeremi (Ricardo Ariel Toribio). There’s a casual ruthlessness to Noelí, who has no qualms trading on her youth and beauty or following Yeremi’s plan to bilk the elderly Frenchwoman who’s fallen in love with her.
Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is a paradoxical figure: predator and victim, possessive sugar mama and insecure paramour. For three years, Anne has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that Noelí, five decades her junior, views their relationship as a long con. In a poignant, unvarnished performance, Chaplin contrasts Anne’s emotional fragility with a vibrant physicality (echoing the pathos and agility of her father Charlie).
Directors Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas (Jean Gentil) based this drama on Jean-Noël Pancrazi’s novel Les Dollars des Sables, but their loose naturalism makes it seem shot on the fly. To capture their country’s social strata, the married filmmakers cast nonprofessional Dominican leads (Mojica and Toribio are captivating) and employ prominent locals (poet and translator Hoyt Rogers is Anne’s confidant, and the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to Egypt, Maria Gabriella Bonetti, plays his alluring houseguest).
Guzmán and Cárdenas present this tropical island as both Anne’s romantic refuge and Noelí’s exploitative landscape, a beautiful, enchanting – and realistic – Eden where snakes are merely snakes.