You and Me is a documentary that explores the very interesting socio-cultural landscape of the Dominican Republic through the relationship between a woman and her help.
The woman, known in the film only as the Mrs, is a widow, Aridia, her young domestic servant, lives with the Mrs in an orchid-filled house in Santo Domingo. Aridia cleans, the Mrs gardens; sometimes they gossip. But the atmosphere can get tense: when the Mrs (who is white) gets angry with Aridia (who is black) and Aridia defends herself, the Mrs reminds her “where her place is.” You and Me is a moving, closely observed portrait of the complex relationship between two women that goes beyond merely employer and employee.
The directors of You and Me, Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, both studied at the International School of Film and Television at San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV), Cuba. You and Me is their first feature-length documentary.
Aurora Herrera, Festival blogger, got the chance to speak Natalia Cabral about the making of the film.
This film feels like a social experiment. What was your inspiration for revealing the relationship between women and their helpers?
Before we started shooting, Oriol and I were looking for money to finance the shooting of a script for another film we wanted to make. We spent weeks having meetings with possible investors, important businessmen from Santo Domingo, talking about how many spectators the film should bring to the movie theatres and how much money the film should make. Back home after these meetings, we felt a little disappointed because what we really wanted to do was to film a low-budget, intimate story. So we decided to take a break from these meetings, bought a camera and sound equipment and started filming the life that was just happening before our eyes: the women that were living with us in a house.
Both of these women seem to live very lonely lives. However, there are fish on the wall of the bathroom, suggestive of children, as well as a family pictures in the Mrs’ bedroom. Also, Aridia talks on the phone with family. Why are they estranged from their families?
We decided to focus only on the relationship between these two women and leave the rest of their lives out of the frame because we wanted to achieve a claustrophobic atmosphere and capture the essence of their relationship.
What significance is the garden, and the way the two women interact within it, to the film?
The garden is a common space between them, like the kitchen is also a very common and important space. The different spaces of the house are characters within the film and they change their appearance depending on the tone of the scene.
The Mrs seems totally capable of doing everything herself, especially as she scolds Aridia for doing everything wrong, and then shows her how to do it. She is controlling and condescending. Is she the archetype for this group of women in your society?
Certainly, you can find this behavior in Dominican society; you could say it’s part of our culture. But what really motivated us to make films are human relationships and the complexity of feelings. We love the work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. In his films, he reminds us about those other relationships between people: a father and his daughter, elderly people and younger people, etc. His films are so deep and timeless because of this reminder, while romantic relationships between a man and a woman seem to prevail in film storytelling.
What was the shooting process like?
The shooting process was very stimulating for us. We were working with two real people and a real relationship that has continued after the shooting. Sometimes, we had to negotiate with them to shoot what we wanted but we had to be very careful, as we didn’t want to lose the spontaneity of the moment. For example, for the Mrs and Aridia, lunchtime and soap opera time were sacred. We weren’t allowed to film another scene with them while they were eating or watching TV. So we included these moments in the film.
Did anyone on the team have a helper while growing up? Did this influence the telling of the story in any way?
Oriol grew up in Spain but I grew up in the Dominican Republic so my family always has domestic service. But what struck us the most was the personalities of the Mrs and Aridia, the ease they showed in front of the camera and their changeable and unpredictable relationship, which made the shooting a thrilling experience.
Do you have a favorite moment from the filming process?
While we were filming with Aridia, those scenes of solitude in her room or in the garden, we had time to get to know her better and we realised that she could concentrate on her feelings, forget about the camera and give us moments of great beauty.
You and Me will be showing at the trinidad+tobago film festival on the following dates. The filmmakers will be present at the second screening to introduce their film and engage in and question-and-answer session with the audience.
Mon 22 Sept, 3.30pm, MovieTowne POS
Sat 27 Sept, 1.30pm, Little Carib Theatre, Q+A