The strikingly delicate film, De Lo Mio, closed this year’s 11th annual BAMcinemaFest in Brooklyn last night.
First time feature writer-director Diana Peralta wove her personal Dominican-American upbringing into the fictional story of two sisters, Carolina (Darlene Demorizi) and Rita (Sasha Merci), as they return to Santiago to settle their grandparents’ estate with half-brother Dante (Héctor Aníbal). De Lo Mio, translating to “of mine,” is an ode to the Dominican Republic while transcending into a swooning memory of a universal hometown, one that fades in and out of daydreams like the sunlight through the shrouded tree branches at the family’s weathered home.
Associate Vice President of Cinema at BAMcinematek Gina Duncan introduced the “achingly alive” film, citing her own experience as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants to the relatable quality of De Lo Mio. “It truly marks the arrival of not just a filmmaker to watch but one to bet on,” Duncan said to applause. “I don’t just hope–I know–that big things are in store for this rising talent, and it is truly an honor to host [Diana Peralta].”
Brooklyn-based Peralta also thanked the cast and crew prior to the screening; a true family affair, Peralta’s sister Michelle was a co-producer, and the house at the center of the film is actually Peralta’s grandparents’ house. “You don’t get a lot of stories like this told,” Peralta mused, turning to lead actors Demorizi and Merci. “This is your story as much yours as it is mine.”
De Lo Mio was filmed entirely in the Dominican Republic, emphasizing its beauty and pace of life with long takes and natural sounds. The 14-day shoot was structured around Peralta’s family home; like in the film, the house also faced demolition after Peralta’s grandmother passed away six months prior. “Everything you see is a family heirloom, it’s things that I was surrounded by since I was a child,” Peralta explained. “It took a while to get inspired by that and to realize there is something beautiful to talk about there.”
As the fictional three siblings struggle with loss, guilt, and reconnecting, the house remains the unifying element. Peralta mapped out each room to pair with particular scenes– smaller quarters for the intense argument between Dante and Rita, the exposed sunlight-filled living room for an endearing dance scene with the trio as they reminisce to old records. “Every room I knew I wanted in the film, I would craft a scene around,” Peralta said. “I basically wrote the story based on the location.”
Cinematographer Tim Curtin, known for neorealist film A Ciambra, proves his brilliance once again with every shot. The touches within the home are thoughtfully magnified as the camera lingers, sometimes long enough for you too to be transported into your own home, underneath the mosquito net canopy that turns to gossamer floating slightly in the unseen breeze. Through Curtin’s lens we see the profound authenticity of Peralta’s memories; their collaboration is what drives the film to an emotional depth, the images haunting in their comfort.
Demorizi and Merci’s sisterly chemistry is in part thanks to their own personal lifelong friendship off-screen, but Peralta’s direction–especially for Merci’s captivating performance–carries their inherent sibling jokes to a deeper core. Both Demorizi and Merci are comedians, and Peralta reached out to them via Instagram private message, a shocking fact given their immense onscreen talent. As to why they agreed to the roles, Merci explained it best: “It felt like something I had to do for the culture. I don’t think that story is told.”
Aníbal, a quieter figure in Dante, has a magnetic intrigue, and remains an echoing presence throughout the film. It’s Dante’s relationship to the Dominican Republic and his resentment of their father for leaving to start a new family in the U.S. that remains at the core, and Aníbal’s eyes brilliantly convey the conflicted situation for Dante.
A stunning portrait, De Lo Mio slowly embeds itself with the audience, its final shot whispering away, moving ever so forward, and reminding us too of the childhood lost far away.
De Lo Mio is written and directed by Diana Peralta and produced by Alexandra Byer and Michelle Peralta. The film was shot by Tim Curtin and edited by Max Bowens.