Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I haven't been this impressed by a low-budget/no-budget film since John Caouette's 'Tarantion' (another film, like Donoma, made with a budget of $200). But the main differences between the 2 films is that 'Tranation' is a 80+ minute documentary, whereas 'Donoma' is a 2 hour & 20 minute feature!!! Not to take anything away from Caouette's documentary (which is a very personal journey in to the world of mental illness, as well as a film i included in my top 50 films of the last decade), but i imagine making a multi-layered/multi-character 2+ hour film while having almost no budget is a whole 'nother ballgame. The length of 'Donoma' is just one of the many things about the film that breaks all of the preconceived notions one would have about working with little or no budget (the acting is really good, the score is GREAT, and the natural/realistic cinematography worked perfectly). When the director (Djinn Carrenard) introduced the film at NYU last week and mentioned how he made it with $200, a lady in the audience laughed out loud in disbelief. In a way, that moment kinda symbolized all the things I've heard my (few) filmmaker friends say when it comes time to make a movie. When they've set out to make a film, all they got from their peers were words of discouragements and negativity. I cant imagine how many naysayers or how many "cants" Djinn Carrenard must have dealt with during the course of making 'Donoma'. But in the end it all paid off, and i ended up being pleasantly surprised by a film that i wouldn't have know about had it not been for Alice Houri who let me know about the NYC screening on facebook a few days prior.

'Donoma' is made up of 3 stories that intertwine with one another...

A high school Spanish teacher (Ana) who goes a little too far in an effort to get her most difficult student (Dacio) to respect her. For the rest of the film we witness what ends up becoming a power struggle not only between student & teacher, but between the sexes as well. Watching the relationship between Ana and Dacio is almost like watching a really good 2-sided fist fight. Both sides exchange serious blows with one another. At one point, we see Dacio in control of the relationship, then suddenly Ana takes command and it kinda goes back & forth until they're both at their most vulnerable moment and end up making a big mistake with each other. This story is part of a new breed of films along with; 'Half Nelson' (2006), 'The Class' (which won best film at Cannes in 2008), Mike Leigh's 'Happy Go Lucky' (2008) and 'Chalk' (2007) that portray teachers in a more humanistic & flawed manner, as opposed to the stereotypical portrayals of the kinda teachers our parents had when they were in high school. All the teachers in the aforementioned films (including 'Donama') are young, good at what they do, mean well, but end up making mistakes (with the exception of "Poppy" in 'Happy Go Lucky' i guess). As the son of a high school teacher (my mother has been a teacher since before i was born), i always appreciate a realistic portrayal of a teacher.

The 2nd story in this film was my personal favorite because i felt this is what the highly disappointing 'Paris Je T'aime' shoulda been (another film, like 'Donoma', that involves multiple characters set in Paris). In fact, as an isolated story from the rest of 'Donoma', this would have fit in (and stood out) perfectly with the other (mostly bad) short stories that made up 'Paris Je T'aime'. On a whim, a young photographer who's never had a boyfriend before (or sex for that matter) decides she'll fall in the love with the next person she sees. Luckily for her that person just so happens to be a handsome guy who recently broke up with his old girlfriend due to a racial statement he made that really set her off. The 2 immediately move in with one another and live by a set of strange rules (most notably the rule where they aren't allowed to talk to one another). They communicate through body language, mannerisms, photographs and of course writing things down on notepads. This story is a sequel to a short film that Djinn Carrenard made in 2008.

The last part of 'Donoma' is what really ties everyone and everything together. In this story, we focus on the girlfriend of Dacio (the Spanish teacher's nemesis student from the first part); Salma, and all the issues she's going through at the moment. Aside from kinda being an immature jerk, her boyfriend is also trying to sleep around behind her back (refer to the first story), yet she doesn't know it. And her boyfriend's best friend (played by director; Djinn Carrenard) has a crush on her. Now those are just regular problems that we all go through at some point. To take it even further, not only is Salma's sister, who she's been taking care of for some time, dying of cancer (probably the most touching aspect of the film), but Salma, an atheist, gets a stigmata out of nowhere, putting an unexpected twist on the film. In this story we kinda revisit the "battle of the sexes" (Salma and Dacio constantly argue about everything from money & social status to whether or not they should have sex) as well as new elements like faith & religion and dealing with the death of a loved one.

What 'Donoma' has going for itself above anything else is that when you put aside the fact that it was made with a (VERY) small budget (which is something that's naturally gonna draw a lot of attention), its still a good film that, in terms of race & ethnicity, really represents the current world. Many of these multi-character movies are made up of one race and only show the perspective of one race. But not in 'Donoma'. We have a multi-racial cast of characters who all have a voice.
When you see this, you wont find yourself saying; "it was good...for a movie made with barely any money." Similar to when David Lynch made 'Inland Empire' with a cheap camera and a much smaller budget than what he was use to. All people could talk about were those 2 elements, and barely anyone mentioned the fact that the movie was great, or how it was one of Laura Dern's best performances in years or how Jeremy Irons and David Lynch finally collaborated with each other after all these years. I just hope that the more people who see and/or write about 'Donoma', don't just get caught up in its budget, but actually focus on the story.


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