The Fragmentist Style: A Note on SAND DOLLARS/ DOLARES DE ARENA (2014)

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Fig. 1. Dolares de Arena (Sand Dollars, 2014).

Around the globe, under vastly different circumstances, there are numerous filmmakers pursuing what might be called a fragmentist style. This thought jelled for me while viewing Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas’s striking Dolares de Arena (Sand Dollars, 2014), a somewhat ambiguous story of lesbian love between an elderly française and a young Dominicana, about which much, much more could, indeed ought to, be said.

I wanted to take a moment to simply describe the style in this post. In future ones, I hope to explore some examples in greater depth.

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Fig. 2.  Dolares de Arena (Sand Dollars, 2014).

The fragmentist style challenges the integrity of the scene, and in this way, it stands in opposition to the long-take, long-shot approach of recent movies on the international scene like Jauja (Alonso, 2014), Victoria (Schipper, 2015), and Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015). The fragmentist filmmaker cuts the scene short, giving it a beginning and a middle, or a middle and an end, but rarely all three beats, and intrudes on the drama with thematic inserts. Fragmentist cinema slices up the scene’s space into tight framings that heighten the senses with their suggestive offscreen activity. It also replaces tight “hooking”–where a snatch of dialogue or a visual cue hooks into the drama of the following scene, “causing it”–with shards of narrative development interspersed with repetitive, ritualistic behaviors (like wandering about, riding cars from point A to B, etc.). In movies like those of established directors like Terence Malick, Stéphane Brizé and the Dardennes, and up-and-comers like Guzman and Cardenas, Aline Fischer, and Constantina Voulgaris, among many others, the camera is handheld, at times we gain access to character subjectivity via voice-overs and recollections, and at others subjective experience eludes us almost entirely, and the drama gets mapped onto the body–or better yet, parts of it, as we see in the beautifully angular, abstract composition above (Fig. 1). 

It all serves to render in the flesh, and to destabilize, the plot.

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Fig. 3. Dolares de Arena (Sand Dollars, 2014).