The Costa Rican film I Have Electric Dreams examines coming of age

A huge winner at international festivals, Valentina Maurel’s coming-of-age drama I Have Electric Dreams is a daring work that further highlights Costa Rica’s burgeoning film scene. The film won the Director, Actress and Actor Awards at the Locarno Film Festival and the Horizons Award at the San Sebastián Film Festival.

The film follows Eva, a restless 16-year-old girl experiencing her sexual awakening and desperate to leave the home she shares with her mother and younger sister and move in with her estranged father, a troubled creative artist who paints and sculpts She writes poetry and drinks too much.

The film, which will be screened in the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s international competition, is a personal work that explores darker aspects of family relationships, explains Maurel.

“It’s inspired by things I know from my own life, but it’s not an autobiographical film. It’s a film I wanted to make about the complexity of family relationships, about violence. And I really wanted to make a film that wasn’t about Costa Rican culture or what it’s like to live in a tropical paradise in Central America.”

Instead, she wanted to tell a story that could happen anywhere. “Sometimes when you come from a small country you feel an obligation, a responsibility to represent it culturally, to capture the interest of European or North American audiences. So I thought I’ll try not to do that.”

Daniela Marín Navarro and Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez in “I Have Electric Dreams”
Valentine Maurel

In telling Eva’s story and the often shocking and disturbing events she experiences, Maurel attempted to paint an honest portrait of life’s complexities without moral judgement. “I felt like life is much more complicated. I really wanted to show that life can be very blurry and that complicates situations for everyone.”

She adds, “I wanted the characters to be complex and I wanted them to be in situations where the viewer isn’t really sure the difference between right and wrong because that’s what everyday life is like . If we always had the moral distance to know good from wrong, then life would be easier.”

Maurel has also sought to focus on a generation of people in Costa Rica who have broken with the country’s established social norms – people who are more modern, artistic and bohemian.

“Costa Rica is a country with a strong middle class – it’s starting to disappear, but it’s still there. I wanted to take a critical look at this privileged situation that we have in Costa Rica. If you compare it to other countries in the region, we are in a privileged situation, but that doesn’t mean that very macho and violent things aren’t happening.

“We like to forget that because the situation in neighboring countries is so bad. We think we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot to do.”

Noting that Costa Rica lacks a screen acting tradition, Maurel auditioned first-time actors and stage actors. While meeting everyone she could find, it was important to her to find people who were familiar with San Jose and the city’s middle-class lifestyle and arts scene.

She found the perfect leads in Daniela Marín Navarro and Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez. While Amien is a veteran stage actor, Marín is new to the craft.

“Daniela had never acted before. She was what I would call a typical pandemic teenager. She was very bored at home and didn’t know what to do with her life. She saw the casting ad and she came – and it really was a miracle that she came.”

Maurel, who lives in Brussels, made “I Have Electric Dreams” as a Costa Rican-Belgian-French co-production with Wrong Men in Brussels and Geko Films in Paris. A welcome structure, especially considering the difficult financing situation in Costa Rica, which nonetheless has a limited film funding and tax refund program.

“It’s paradoxical because Costa Rican cinema has never been so good,” she adds. “We have a lot of films at festivals. … There is a big boom. Something happens. It’s really exciting and I think it’s going to continue because there are a lot of young people who are very motivated by the film.”

Looking to the future, the director plans to continue the story of Eva’s family in her next film. She is currently writing a screenplay for a sequel that will focus on the relationship between Eva and her mother Anca, played by Vivian Rodríguez Barquero.

Maurel notes that she was frustrated that she had to cut much of Anca’s story in the film to focus on this particular story and is eager to explore the character further in another film that is in addition to the mother -Daughter’s relationship will also focus on her will contain “complex characters and maybe a bit of a raw perspective on relationships between women”. The Costa Rican film I Have Electric Dreams examines coming of age

Charles Jones

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