Independent film ‘Cristo Rey’, shot in 2013 is being selectively screened as it searched for distribution. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in Santo Domingo (in the Dominican Republic) and IndieWire.com states that it may be the most intriguing version of the story “in quite a awhile”, referencing predecessors such as West Side Story who had also modernized the story.
A shot from a scene showing a Mexican standoff with a woman holding a machete to a police officers neck as she is surrounded by offers with guns drawn is helping propel buzz about the film.
The Shakespearian update is set among the tensions between the Hatians who illegally immigrate to the richer side of the island they share with the Dominican Republic.
Director Leticia Tonos Paniagua brings a familiar story of love and prejudice but places it in a unique and compelling setting. In Cristo Rey, a shantytown in Santo Domingo that the movie is named for, drug lord El Bacá (Leonardo Vasquez) and Colonel Montilla (Jalsen Santana), a corrupt police chief, reign supreme from opposite sides of the law. They contend with each other while squeezing the impoverished inhabitants of Cristo Rey. Montilla’s hunt for El Bacá plays an important role in the plot.
A racial divide plays out in the movie, with lighter-skinned Dominicans castigating the darker Haitians.
It’s within this fray that Janvier and Jocelyn, who is El Bacá’s younger sister, spark an unlikely romance. Pressured into El Bacá’s service after his mother is deported to a post-apocalyptic-looking Port-au-Prince in Haiti, Janvier looks for a way to solve his problems and preserve his newfound love.
“Cristo Rey” moves along with a developed plot and passable performances by its leads, with a strong supporting cast, but falls short in some regards. Important tensions between the characters, including a rivalry between Janvier and his brother, as well as the love between Janvier and Jocelyn, aren’t given the space and attention they need to carry the emotions they try to convey.