“Do not look away from what happened.” This well-intentioned slogan created the genre of genocide movies. At festivals, in particular, works are shown at regular intervals that remind Western audiences of the genocides of the last centuries and dress up the terrible events, the details of which can hardly be imagined, in the form of feature films and, more or less, retell them. , using entertainment media, such as the cinema. .
This is the minor issue, although the question has a lot to do with how this is supposed to work and if you really have to do the whole entertainment thing. But that’s an ethical question, so it’s pretty old-fashioned, especially with a topic that is moral in itself and seems to have its justification.
This is precisely the biggest mistake: no movie becomes good because its subject matter is important and its message is socially acceptable or educationally valuable.
“Perejil” tells the story of the well-known Perejil massacre, told through the love story of a pregnant Haitian woman, Marie, and her Dominican partner, Frank.
The film examines the ramifications of what José María Cabral, its director, describes as genocide.
The word is not often used in the Dominican Republic to talk about mass murder, which has historically been downplayed or dismissed by Dominicans.
When Frank is warned by a childhood friend, Germán, who is in the army, about the pending massacre against Haitians, Frank dismisses it as a rumour.
Marie listens to the conversation and subtly tries to bring it up; her message to Frank is that she has nothing to worry about because he is Dominican. Without knowing the macabre future for his people.
Both Haitians and Dominicans are murdered, and in some cases the soldiers who commit the murders have the same black skin as their Haitian victims.
The decision, said Cabral, who did a lot of reading and research before he began writing a script for the film in 2017, was to show the racism behind the decision.
The biggest problem with movies like Parsley is how to show what you want to tell. In a film about a genocide, there will always be a side that disagrees with the word and its meaning, in this case, the Trujillistas would not see it that way.
Some in the Dominican Republic claim that the incident never happened. Meanwhile, historians like Eduardo Paulino of Border Lights estimates that between 9,000 and 30,000 civilians, most of them Haitians but also black Dominicans, were killed over five days in early October 1937.
The bodies were dumped into the ominously named Río Masacre, which separates Dajabón and Ouanaminthe and took its name from an earlier massacre during colonial times.
After the 1937 assassinations, Trujillo forbade newspapers to write about what happened, and historians did not begin searching for answers until after the dictator’s death, 31 years after his iron-fisted rule began.
There are two possible ways out of the dilemma: one is uncompromising art and abstraction, but even that would not have a wide enough impact and thus would not have achieved its goal. There remains the possibility of telling the exception, surviving in the midst of dying, but in such a way that the horror is not forgotten and its dimension is not trivialized.
Steven Spielberg was perhaps the best at this about twenty years ago with Schindler’s List. Parsley is also a cinematographic story based on real events, which at the same time focuses on an atypical heroine, classic in Cabral’s cinema, a woman of action who, against all odds, wants to survive for herself and her family in the middle of the horror in a very risky, but extremely brave way.
The film by José María Cabral, who in Hotel Copelia revisited a part of Dominican history such as the North American invasion, from a very particular point of view, shows how surviving that night was practically impossible for those affected. Parsley is a suspenseful story, with ebbs and flows between hope and despair with accompanying melodrama elements and certain twists and turns that may be predictable for experienced viewers, but still effective.
There are moments when you think you have an idea of the dimensions of what happened then on the Dominican border, but the film quickly becomes a distraction. Spielberg took much longer to show what needs to be told, that thousands of murders are at stake, and that the stories of survival are small compared to the big deaths.
He showed life and death in the area and took the time to confront his hero with a suitable opponent in the figure of the field commander. Cabral transforms Spielberg’s approach and shows the horror head on, raw and with various subjects that represent the symbol of evil.
The film prepares you for what is to come, unfolds a lot of atmosphere and recalls mendacious, cryptic and resigned conversations.
The more everything is focused on the small village and the figure of Claire, the more real it seems, the more pure and cruel confrontation.
I find it interesting to know what kind of reception this film will have when it is released in the Dominican ultra-nationalist; for decades we have had conflicts with our neighbors on the island, and there is no doubt that there are still some threads of contempt towards our neighbors.
Without a doubt that the film will open debates, but more than that, I am very interested in the opening to a conversation, to a look without pointing fingers, to seek a peace that possibly reconciles.