A young Serbian immigrant working illegally as a golfball diver at a New York country club, plans to leave it all behind to pursue his dream of opening a diving academy in the Dominican Republic. The film is an existential tragi-comedy about the end of an American adventure; set in New York City, mostly in Serbian with subtitles.
In our vitriolic era of scandals, political gaffes, civil uproar, and media manipulations, it’s easy to lose control of moral cogency. And often, what’s drilled into the minds of masses is a set of ideals so diluted and recycled that it forsakes authenticity and honesty. In most cases, it certainly forgets about the humans behind the headlines. The immigrant story is one so endemic to this country and so insinuated into its fabrics, that we’ve begun treating such stories as metrics; mining the immigrant data to fulfill partisan arguments and support policies, and as a result in most cases, minimizing the associated human condition behind each story. The intention with Punta Cana is to illustrate the human side to a familiar immigration dilemma and to allow one character’s experience in this country to be a mirror for greater human truths. Specifically, to observe and understand the emotional struggle, absurdity and conflicts of identity that exist when we leave home and create anew.
As a first generation American citizen, my intention in telling this particular immigrant story, about a far-fetched dream with major risk, is to avoid a generalized pablum of as-seen-on-tv depictions of a New York experience; rather, to use the tools of cinema - specifically, comedy, time and character drama - to tell a rich, atmospheric and authentic story of a few days of one character’s ending of an American tour — one marked by the significance of one decision: to stay or to go. And the specificity of Denis’s dream allows us to use the short form in a unique way, embedding comedy, or more specifically absurdity in places which counteract the banality of existence and the drama of his circumstance. Though his dilemma ultimately proves tragic and significant, these moments of authentic levity juxtapose the heaviness of his condition in a way that reminds us as viewers that the journey, no matter how challenging, is essentially why we’re here. That the censorship of fantasy is what we’re perhaps attracted to, more than the achievement itself.
Punta Cana, while ultimately a story about fantasy and fallen dreams, evinces a greater array of more relatable human truths beyond the immigrant dilemma of clerical negligence. Denis’s physical and emotional suspension, between place and identity, transcends the story of immigration into something more existential, arguing that basic human experiences precede political identities; that the theme of uncertainty is one we all carry with us. This truth in unity is no more present than in the making of the film itself; relying on immigrant manpower to craft the piece, from the crew to the actors, is what I believe to be the film’s greatest contribution. Punta Cana celebrates and embraces language (or in the case of Denis, his tool for bridging cultures) in a powerful way, creating art that straddles culture and community. It also gave me the opportunity to discover my own culture in the most meaningful way possible.