‘I have electric dreams’, shocking ‘coming off the edge’

The most exciting Costa Rican cinema of recent years has a woman’s name. If in ‘Rebellious Objects’, by Carolina Arias, some stone spheres served the filmmaker to delve into her family past; Nathalie Álvarez Mesen, with ‘Clara sola’, claimed the mental and sexual liberation of her protagonist; and Valentina Maurel, another filmmaker to follow very closely, skips established genres to create her own filmic universe.

The director opens in the feature film format, after daring shorts, with parent-child relationships as the central narrative axis, like another of the films in the Horizontes Latinos section, ‘La pack’, by Andrés Ramírez Pulido.

Away from what, at first glance, could resemble a traditional ‘coming of age’ (frequent career start in cinema about the psychological and moral development of a character, in transit from youth to adulthood)Valentina Maurel takes a risk, and wins, with a dizzying abyss staging that defies unchanging conventions and one-way viewpoints.

Eva, a 16-year-old teenager, knows that her father is unpredictable, she knows his mood swings, one could even say that she is the only one who can foresee them, she has suffered in her own flesh, in that of her sister and that of her mother, the anger of his violence, but she does not feel uncomfortable with him for that.

Her mother has built a safe space, above the average for Costa Rican homes thanks to an unexpected inheritance, where the three of them can live in peace and security. However, Eva prefers the erratic search for a place, at the low level of her father’s economic conditions, the parties he organizes adorned with drugs, alcohol and tobacco and the company of adults.

‘I have electric dreams’

The protagonist hesitates between the security of growing up in safety with her mother and sister or the abyss of an unpredictable, conflictive and violent father. Eva walks among the traditional coming of age to delve into the disturbing abyss of touching the limits of a coming off the edge. Love, almost always, has no explanations; when you do, it’s usually another feeling.

Thanks to the light of Nicolás Wong (sublime cinematographer of films like ‘La llorona’, ‘Buy me a revolver’ or ‘The Giants’), the country’s capital, San José, becomes another protagonist of the film. A place where violence is in the air (and in the streets) and that, perhaps, could explain that continuous oppression, that restlessness that seems to infect its inhabitants in spirals of violence, even against loved ones.

Valentina Maurel does not judge, she only portrays. His is not an unhealthy description of a nascent sexuality (as well exposed as Inés Barrionuevo can show it in her films), a pamphlet of misery or a severe judgment on the psychology of her characters.

The filmmaker’s mastery is knowing how to stand at the perfect distance, which implies letting the viewer decide, evaluate, empathize, enjoy and suffer with the protagonists, who are as perfect as they are overwhelming (in the last edition of the Locarno festival, Eva and her father, Daniela Marín and Reinaldo Amien, won the award for best performances, and Valentina Maurel, best direction).

Faced with the intensity of the story, the filmmaker does not forget the necessary dose of poetry. Literally, Valentina Maurel conceives the titles of her films from the poems of her parents (this is the first line of a poem by her father, and attention, her next film will be titled ‘I’m always your maternal animal’, this time , one of his mother).

I have electric dreams

‘I have electric dreams’

Sensation of Horizontes Latinos, this immense film has many ballots to end up in the winners for its subtle balance between realistic honesty and poetic ambiguity. A film on the edge of the knife that leaves no one indifferent.

Latin Horizons 70th San Sebastian Film Festival

Original title: I have electric dreams. Direction and script: Valentina Maurel. Photography: Nicholas Wong. Distribution: Reinaldo Amien, Daniela Marín Navarro, Vivian Rodríguez, José Pablo Segreda Johanning. Duration: 101 min. Country: Costa Rica-Belgium-France (2022).

Synopsis: Against Eva’s wishes, her mother wants to renovate the house and get rid of the cat, who, disoriented since the divorce, urinates everywhere. Eva wants to go live with her father, but he is as disoriented as her cat.

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