Thursday, May 1, 2014

Red Princesses (orig. Princesas Rojas) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmAffinity listing*
Official Website

LaNacion [Costa Rica] coverage*
LaNacion [Costa Rica] (Y. La Cruz) review*
DeleFoco (Y. Oviedo) review*

Red Princesses (orig. Princesas Rojas) [2013] (directed and cowritten by Laura Astorga Carrera [IMDb] along with Daniela Goggi) is a Costa Rican film that played recently at the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

Set in the 1980s, the film tells the story of 10 year old Claudia (played by Valeria Conejo [IMDb]) and her younger sister Antonia (played by Aura Dinarte [IMDb]) who as daughters of Costa Rican leftist parents Flipe (played by Fernando Bolaños [IMDb] [DF]*) and Magda (played by Carol Sanabria) had spent much of their early lives growing-up in neighboring Sandinista dominated Nicaragua following the pro-Communist Revolution there (which had ousted the hated Samoza dictatorship) and during the subsequent "Contra War" (against U.S. backed post-Samoza anti-Communist forces).

At the beginning of the film, Claudia and Antonia's parents had decided (and received permission from their Sandinista commanders/allies...) to move their family from Managua, Nicaragua back to San José, Costa Rica.  Why?  Well that's a very good question and a good part of the task given to the audience as it watches the film is to try to come-up with a satisfactory answer.

Yes, it seems that Managua had become a relatively dangerous place to live as the Contra War ground on.  And yes, Felipe and Magda were NOT Nicaraguan (but rather Costa Rican sympathizers to the Sandinista cause).  Perhaps they had enough of a war that ultimately was "not theirs."

However, it was also clear at least at the beginning of the story that they were not simply leaving Nicaragua to "run away."  Instead, as soon as they returned to San José, Felipe and Magda settled into a document forging operation in support of the Sandinista regime.  (The film's director Laura Astorga Carrera present for Q&A after the film -- and who explained that the film was based on her own childhood experiences -- she would have been the 10 year old Claudia in the story -- explained that the kind of "support operation" that Claudia / Antonia's parents would have been involved in would have been done by Costa Ricans sympathizing with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and NOT by Sandinista Nicaraguans themselves because "Nicaraguans would have 'stood out' in Costa Rica at the time").

Yet it was ALSO clear that Magda's family (very, very regular middle class) in particular was quite happy to see their (perhaps "wayward") daughter and _her_ two young daughters (along with a husband who, while they weren't necessarily openly hostile to him, had after all, "married into the family" ...) finally "back home from Nicaragua" and presumably "out of harms way..."

After Felipe and Magda along with their girls arrived in San José, Magda's family quickly put the two girls in a nice Catholic grade school.

This is when we, the audience, first begin to appreciate just how "different" (from Western norms) Claudia and Antonia's upbringing had been up to that point: They had been growing-up in a quite "Spartan" milieu of fervent Sandinista regime (basically Communists) back in Managua.  Hence they didn't have (or even think to have) a lot of "stuff" and what they did have -- Claudia's prize possession was a box of various Communist pins from all over the Eastern Bloc.  So there were Soviet ones, Cuban ones, various East European ones, perhaps even a Libyan or Angolan / Mozambican one -- didn't make a lot of sense in their transplanted Costa Rican (and now back to more traditional Catholic) surroundings.

On their first day at their new school, the principal asked them if they knew their prayers and ... of course they didn't.  On the other hand, Antonia asked her older sister "where the Pioneers are" (the Communist equivalent of the Scouts) because she had apparently always wanted to be one (as Claudia apparently already had been).  Claudia answered, that the school apparently didn't have a Pioneer group yet and for a good part of the rest of the film, poor Claudia spends a fair amount of time, putting together a guidebook (from memory ... and remember that Claudia was a 10 year old) for a Pioneer group that she was going to start for her little sister and their friends.

Now since this story is being told primarily from the perspective of the 10 year old Claudia, the school scenes become absolutely priceless:  This is the story of two little previously Communist girls adapting to live in a renewed Catholic environment where (this is Central America in the 1980s after all) there were now ALSO Protestants.  So as the real drama "begin to happen" in the story (below) Claudia's Catholic friend always suggests "well let's pray an Our Father" or a "Hail Mary" about it (and patiently teaches Claudia how to pray these prayers), while another friend of both girls -- of "Communist Claudia" and her Catholic friend -- who's a daughter of a Protestant Minister always prays for Claudia and Antonia "from the heart" with these absolutely heartfelt/delightful renditions (again, she's also just 10 years old) of the more Pentacostalist prayer style that she knows from her home (with eyes closed yet gazing heavenward, "Oh Heavenly Father ...").  So if nothing else, these little previously "Communist girls" were loved by their believing (Catholic AND also Protestant) friends.  And they appreciated the heartfelt concern of these new friends, all 10 year olds, as well.

So what dramas start "happening" at Claudia / Antonia's home after they return after some years from Sandinista Managua?  Well ... a fairly short time after returning, Magda, their mother SUDDENLY and (not getting into details) WITH HELP FROM THE AMERICAN EMBASSY DITCHES THE FAMILY AND APPARENTLY RESURFACES A FEW DAYS LATER IN MIAMI (Florida, the United States).  What the heck happened?  Felipe (Claudia and Antonia's father, and Magda's husband) doesn't know what hit him and Claudia / Antonia don't understand really either.  Claudia feels sorry for her father.  Magda's family, on the other hand seems to understand totally.

Now obviously a lot still needs to be resolved as Magda's family appears, after all, to have been more or less traditionally Catholic and so having their daughter just dump and leave her daughters with her husband that she'd be presumably leaving, wouldn't make a lot of sense.  And yet to leave everybody and everything that she previously stood for -- La Revolución! after-all -- for the "Gringo-Imperialist" citadel of Miami seems so shocking to begin with.  So why would she do it?

The director, who was present at the screening, again freely told the audience that the story was based on her own early years with a couple of key differences -- in her actual story not just her mother but also the whole the family ALL took the opportunity once they got back to Costa Rica from Nicaragua to "ditch the Revolution" and flee to Miami.  She explained that to be fervent members of a revolutionary group like the Sandinistas became LIKE BEING IN A CULT: The only way to "get out" was to "get out" COMPLETELY.

The director added the twist in this fictionalized story of Magda, the mother of Claudia and Antonia coming to the conclusion that she "wanted out" without telling her husband Felipe.  (Or perhaps she simply/primarily OUT OF THE MARRIAGE).  IN ANY CASE, "to get out" meant FLEEING EVERYTHING not just "The Cause" but also (at least temporarily?) her husband and family.

It all makes for a very interesting / compelling story.  And while I don't necessarily expect this film to play on "HBO Latino" anytime soon (to say nothing of HBO, period), I do honestly hope that the director/film makers make the film available SOMEHOW for purchase or streaming.

Being a Catholic priest of Czech descent (hence with relatives who ALSO lived in the Communist Bloc) as well as having devoted most of my years as a Catholic priest in Hispanic Ministry, I found pretty much every single character in this story both believable and often _extremely well drawn_.

The couple, the kids, the family, the kids' friends they were ALL remarkably well crafted.  This was truly a remarkably well told story about human ties in a family in a time and place that was very complicated.  And it's a story that won't necessarily be told "in the mainstream."  GOOD JOB!


Two films that I've reviewed previously on this blog that would be interesting to consider as one viewed/reviewed this film would be (1) the African American film For the Cause [2013] that played last year at the Black Harvest Film Festival (sponsored annually by the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago) that was about an estranged African American family (mother, father and grown daughter) struggling with secrets left-over from the mother's/father's days in the Black Panther movement and (2) Marthy Marcy Mae Marlene [2011] staring John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen about a young woman who was trying to get herself out of a cult (and her sympathetic but "out of her depth" older sister trying to help her do so).

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