Love can spring up in the most unlikely places, and the new film Woodpeckers (Carpinteros) tells one such tale of illicit and slow-boil attraction. Dreadlocked and handsome Dominican-Haitian Julián (actor Jean Jean in a breakout role) begins a jail sentence for petty theft inside the notorious Najayo prison just outside Santo Domingo. While navigating the indignities, corruption and everyday violence from both guards and fellow inmates, he becomes immersed in the system of “Woodpecking,” the unique sign language the male prisoners use to communicate with women in the adjacent penitentiary just over 400 feet away.
Standing in windows or out in prison yards, love – and heated liaisons – blossom. Julián’s entanglement with one female inmate, Yanelly (the astonishing Dominican actress Judith Rodriguez Perez), is the fuse that ignites the events of Woodpeckers, which was shot on location at the actual prison using real inmates for all but the lead roles. Director José María Cabral, whose previous work was the Dominican Republic’s official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, delivers a knockout film, full of atmosphere, sexuality, and grit.