"It's become so fashionable to throw around the term Bressonian that the auteurist adjective has nearly lost its complimentary oomph," writes David Fear in Time Out New York: "any movie with minimalist performances and a slight spiritual bent now automatically gets the label slapped on it…. Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán's portrait of a Haitian teacher fallen on hard times has certainly lifted several pages from Bresson's playbook, notably in its lead's near-monotonous line readings (a former educator in real life, Jean Remy Gentil essentially plays a fictionalized version of himself) and a less-is-more approach to storytelling. More important, however, Jean Gentil shares a certain searching quality that marked the best of Bresson's films — and for once, the inevitable analogy with his work seems appropriate."
"Although it's steeped in tragedies both personal and cultural, this contemplative, gorgeously shot documentary-fiction hybrid… nevertheless keeps an unsentimental distance from its titular saint-savant and the existential crisis he endures," writes Mark Holcomb in the Voice. "Jean (celluloid version) is forced to look for work in Santo Domingo after losing his job as a French and English teacher along with his living quarters. Things go from bad to worse — Jean's unwavering Christianity, presumably a support in more stable times, mostly keeps him from making social and ethical compromises that could lead to new work and ultimately drives him deeper into confused, self-defeating cynicism… This is dark, heady stuff, but Cárdenas and Guzmán neither shortchange the rigor of Jean's spiritual inquiry (his frequent prayers press God on the possibility that He's an inscrutable fraud) nor ignore the meaningful everyday intimacies that elude the middle-age professor."
"This is a movie equally wary of blanket statements about poverty and bullshit return-to-nature triumphalism," writes Steve Macfarlane for the L. "Emotionally barren, it splits open the paradoxical way most still think about so-called 'developing' nations: lush landscapes sullied only by pesky 'political' problems. Grilled by a potential employer, Jean drops the screenplay's one explicit hint to his depression, also subtly implicating audiences: 'I'm not living life. I only see other people living.'"
At Anthology Film Archives in New York through Thursday.
Update, 4/22: "The film has echoes of Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth in the way it offers us the experience of a misery produced by the dehumanizing force of large urban centers, as well as the way it brings the marginal to the center of our gaze and our hearing." Diego Costa in Slant: "But once Gentil leaves the city for the woods, the film resembles more Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady. The signs are less literal, the dialogue sparser, the forest's silence replaces the urban cacophony as the disturbing reminder of the insignificance of the individual — or at least some of them. Jean Gentil is like a stinging and atmospheric Marxist anecdote."