Caught between a dream life, and life as dream, Argentinian-Costa Rican writer/director Sofía Quirós Ubeda’s Cannes 2019 feature debut Land Of Ashes (Ceniza Negra) (2019) is the kind of hyper-real magical tale that seems to exist in a parallel dimension to ours, presenting a perfect celluloid double, a familiar mirror image to this life on Earth. Fully ripe and present in its vivid majesty, but never tipping into saturation. A story of the cycle of life, of growing up motherless into womanhood, with both your living and your dead intertwined as dancing branches of a serpent tree. Learning how to kohl your eyes seamlessly in the face of all this love and decay, while a buzzing rainforest sends whispers to seashells on the ocean floor, and the boy you fancy questions your taste in music and ignores you in front of his friends.
The astonishingly talented Smashleen Gutiérrez is Selva, a thirteen-year-old girl in a coastal village in the Caribbean, at the verge of puberty, living happily with Tata, her grandfather (a beautifully mellow Humberto Samuels), and his beloved on and off girlfriend, the wild, irreverent, alcoholic Elena (a live-wire Hortensia Smith), Selva’s constant frenemy, with whom she shares insults, dresses and confidences. And who disappears one night, diving deeply and irreversibly into one party too many.
Selva, who lives in a rooted, animate world of everyday magic, knows that the ghost of her mother will visit in times of distress, and that she must continue to feed a heard of goats that only her grandfather can see. She waits for Elena to show up in her dreams and give her advice on how to help a slowly fading Tata, who forever lost his élan vital when his companion was taken away.
The film is shot lushly by DP Francisca Saez Agurto in a manner that makes everything on screen of equal significance, offering an essential breathing space in the year 2020. And although short in its duration, it runs on a timeline of its own.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov