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Geraldine Chaplin: a Firm Festival Favorite

Chaplin at the top of her game in 'Sand Dollars'

Always gracious, very often graciosa, a Platino Award best actress nominee,  Geraldine Chaplin sat down with Variety at April’s IFF Panama to talk about her work in Laura Guzman and Israel Cardenas’ “Sand Dollars” which, a few months later, was to win her the best actress nomination at July 2015’s 2nd Platino Awards.

“I have to thank my wrinkles,” Geraldine Chaplin jokes in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel in Panama City as she prepares for the festival screening of the critically acclaimed “Sand Dollars” (“Dólares de Arena”). The film, which premiered in Toronto, has already won the hard-working actress, winkles and all, a number of awards including in Cairo, Chicago and Havana. Expect more to follow throughout the year.

Chaplin, who is making her second visit to the Panama Film Festival, is a big fan of film festivals in general and credits a festival for her involvement in “Sand Dollars.”

“I was at a festival, I think it was Lima, and I watched a film called ‘Jean Gentil’ that was directed by Laura Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas. I really liked the film, and it was a film that stuck in my head,” Chaplin explains. “I thought I would contact the directors to say how much I had enjoyed the film, but by chance they contacted me to ask if I might be interested in working with them.”

The film was “Sand Dollars” in which Chaplin plays Anne, a well-off tourist who gets involved in an unconventional and ambiguous relationship with Noelí (played by newcomer Yanet Mojica), a Dominican girl 50 years her junior.

In his review of the film in Variety, Jay Weissberg wrote: “Remarkable sensitivity and exacting verisimilitude are just two of the many selling points for ‘Sand Dollars,’ a psychologically nuanced portrait, set in the Dominican Republic, of an older woman in an unequal lesbian relationship with a much younger local. A further plus is Geraldine Chaplin finally given a serious, uncaricatured role worthy of her talents. Co-writing/helming duo Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas have delivered their best film yet, and their perceptive, nonjudgmental handling of all parties is quickly being recognized by fests worldwide. Stateside and Euro arthouse distribs are likely to reap the benefits.”

Chaplin explains that it is almost by chance that she is the lead in the film, as it is a movie based on an original book in which the main protagonists are an old man and a young boy. Having flown down to the Dominican Republic to meet the directors, it was decided to make the switch and give Chaplin the lead.

With over 140 films to her credit, Chaplin shows no intentions of slowing down and says she picks her work by choosing directors she would like to work with, and over the years that has included many of the very best as well as encouraging new, up-and-coming talent.

“I would love to work with more directors from Latin America,” the actress says. “There is just so much exciting talent in the region.”

Her only concern now for “Sand Dollars” is that people get to see it. ‘That is why film festivals are so important. It gives people the chance to see all these great films that you might not otherwise see. If you are a person who is lucky enough to live in a city that has a festival, you should support it and go and see the movies. And if you have children, take them as well. Watching a film can be a great education.”

Chaplin admitted she got her own education attending the festival’s opening film, Emilio Martinez Lazaro’s “Spanish Affair.” She had not gone to see it in Spain, where she lives, as she admits she had dismissed it as a light comedy. But she loved the film and believes so would have her father. She was sure that Charlie Chaplin would have approved, and likened the film to her father’s “The Great Dictator,” in which he had to play the role of a person he was not, a key element of “Spanish Affair.”

While attending the Panama Film Festival, Chaplin will honor her father by introducing a screening of “Kid Auto Races in Venice” from 1914 and “The Circus” from 1928.

Chaplin herself will next be seen in Valerie Donzelli’s “Marguerite et Julien”; Wolfgang Becker’s “Ich und Kaminski”; and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “A Monster Calls,” alongside Felicity Jones, Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver.

But for now audiences, and hopefully members of the Academy, of which Chaplin is one, will sit back and enjoy her performance in “Sand Dollars.” As Weissberg noted in his review: “Chaplin’s performance is characterized by a lack of vanity and an almost magical combination of empathy and pathos. Anne knows she’s deluding herself, which means she’s completely aware of the impossibility of her obsession, and yet, as seen through Chaplin’s emotionally riveting, fearsomely needy eyes (never have they looked more like her father’s), her humanity is all too understandable.”

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