Dulce Review: A Sweet and Timely Documentary

Since 2011 The New York Times op-doc series has curated a collection of over 200 films intended to reinstate artistic appreciation of documentary film and provide a platform for aspiring filmmakers to represent communities across the globe whose stories and issues are widely overlooked by mainstream media. Adding to its diverse and empowering catalog of op-docs is the gorgeously crafted and timely Dulce

Translating to “sweet” in Spanish, Dulce follows its eponymous 8-year-old protagonist in a small coastal Afro-Latin Colombian village. It’s an environmentalist documentary which introduces its larger themes through through Dulce’s journey of learning how to swim. 

As the opens the midst of what is seemingly Dulce’s first lessons, audiences understand learn just how important it is she learns how to swim through her point of view. This community’s means of survival is largely based on the harvesting of the piangua, a black clam native to the nearby mangroves. For Dulce, she realizes she needs to be able to swim to be recognized as a full-fledged member of her community but her fear of the water prevents her from doing so. 

For Dulce’s mother Betty, her daughter’s lessons are more than a rite of passage but a means of survival. From a few documented conversations between the adults in the village, it’s inferred that several people have drowned due to rising tide levels in nearby villages. As Betty stresses to Dulce, tides are unpredictable and at any moment their home could be submerged underwater. Although she does simplify the concept to her daughter, Betty essentially tells Dulce those who can’t swim will lose their lives under their circumstances. 

Dulce does eventually learn how to swim after strict lessons from her mother and can finally go pingua harvesting with the adult women in the village. After her arc is seemingly settled, the op-doc readjusts its gaze towards a larger environmentalist discussion. Latin American directors Guille Isa and Angello Faccini successfully prevent the story of Dulce and Betty from being pushed to the documentary’s peripheral by revealing how the cause of rising tides are not irregularities in the region but a consequence of deforestation of the region’s mangroves in the film’s final title cards. 

Beyond its tightly-knit story, Dulce also lives up to the expectations set by other op-docs due to its gorgeous cinematography and direction, stylized editing and unique forms of storytelling. Similar to many of the entries in The Time’s series, Dulce also manages to establish an aesthetic which is unique to its story through its near effortless encapsulation of these people in their communities. At times it does feel as though you are positioned on the boat with Betty, looking down at Dulce from a dock, or just about to jump into the water with the villagers. This is mainly credited to the direction of Isa and Faccini, who chose to situate the camera in very intimate positions, and Dulce’s sound design which captures the surrounding forest’s smallest idiosyncrasies. These are the components of the documentary which may be overlooked but are instrumental in making viewers feel more invested and empathetic with the community’s issues. 

What makes Dulce truly special is its strict concern with how smaller rural communities are impacted by climate change. Isa and Faccini never push a political agenda onto viewers but do position them to think about how the actions of industrial societies have detrimental consequences elsewhere. While Dulce doesn’t end with any solutions or ways to help this Colombian village, it’s an incredibly unique and important documentary because its narrative is oriented around a voice and perspective which is quite absent from many mainstream environmentalist films.  With nearly 100,000 streams across Vimeo and YouTube, Isa and Faccini may not have mobilized every single viewer of their op-doc but certainly widened their worldview to unfamiliar territories.