• Interviews

Valentina Maurel on the Triumph of Costa Rican Cinema at Locarno Festival

It’s not every day that a Latin American film wins prizes at a top-level festival.

Tengo sueños eléctricos (I Have Electric Dreams), the feature debut by Costa Rican Valentina Maurel won three of the main awards at the Locarno Festival in Switzerland: best actress for its protagonist, the adolescent Daniela Marín Navarro, best actor for the thespian who plays her father, Reinaldo Amien, and best director for Maurel.

We recently interviewed Maurel via Zoom when she arrived in Sarajevo, at whose festival Tengo sueños eléctricos can also be seen before it arrives in San Sebastián. Maurel told us about her reactions after becoming great news for Costa Rican cinema.

The director, whose father is French, had already won an important award from the Cinefondation at the Cannes Film Festival, for her short film Paul Is Here.

Tengo sueños eléctricos narrates the sexual awakening of a girl (Marín Navarro) who lives part-time in San José with her separated parents.


You already experienced receiving an important award. How did you feel when you earned three awards in Locarno with the film Tengo sueños eléctricos?

I think that one never gets used to winning an award with a film. That is always gratifying. I was so surprised when I got three distinctions that I got a little scared. I literally panicked. But fortunately, that state didn’t last long and a feeling of happiness came right away.

I was already happy to be in the official competition at Locarno with the feature film Tengo sueños eléctricos. That was a new dimension that took me a little time to understand because it is a recognition of a feature film debut by a female director that encourages me to continue doing projects.

When one is a debuting filmmaker like me, it feels a mixture of happiness and fear because an award like this generates a lot of expectation and the latter is not always the best friend of filmmaking.

People are sometimes disappointed with those films that were awarded. But since I went there with my experience with the short in Cannes, I already saw more or less what this double dimension of success is and it’s a little strange.


And what do you think of not only the best director but your main cast winning as well?

We did an excellent job together. Besides that, the conditions are right in Costa Rica now for something like this to be generated. It’s like suddenly there is a culture of cinema, a desire to shoot and act for the big screen that made my collaboration with Reinaldo and Daniela bear fruit.

Even though Daniela was a teenager when she went to the casting and she didn’t know anything about cinema, I think the fact that I had previously worked with Reinaldo also made things easier. So, I see it as an award for the film and for us but also for Costa Rican cinema.


Clara Sola, another award-winning Costa Rican film, also portrays women’s sexuality from a female perspective.

I think it’s also a topical issue that goes beyond being Costa Rican or not. It has to do with all the current debate about women’s consent and sexual freedom. We urgently need to take back the reins of the representation of female desire and we need samples like this in the movie theaters.

In my adolescence, I never saw a movie in which I felt represented in that aspect. The one I saw in that regard was when I was 16 years old. The film was called La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl) by Lucrecia Martel, which really changed my life but it is the only one I remember.

I make my films so that someone can see them and feel less alone in the universe. That’s how I felt when I discovered cinema.


Both in Costa Rica and other Central American countries, there is an explosion of local cinema. In general, all the projects come with a “leg” from Europe. Do you think that at some point, European support is not needed anymore and that films can be only Central American productions?

That would be my wish really because sometimes the co-production structure is heavy and makes the director’s job difficult. I also feel that it has an influence on the way we Central Americans tell stories.

It’s like we’re always put under pressure to have to be a bit exotic in order to attract the European public. So, to have more freedom, it would be ideal for each country to have a national fund to produce but it is complicated.

That is why it would be good if there were at least a regional fund. Filmmakers and movies are always the ones that generate institutional responses. Politicians rarely have an initiative toward art.

For this reason, obtaining awards of this magnitude and their visibility is so important because from there, the government institutions will respond.

I am hopeful that we will once again have something like it was in the early 2000s with Cinergia, the Central American and Cuban audiovisual promotion fund that unfortunately no longer exists. Although that also depended a little on Europe but it was managed more directly in Central America.

This economic autonomy is important to be able to tell other types of stories that are more from within and not so much to satisfy the European taste.



How complicated was it to get funding for Tengo sueños eléctricos?

In my case, it was not so complicated because I am also French. That explains why I went to study there. As I am also European, it was not so expensive to study or find a producer or obtain money.

What was complex was getting enough funds from Costa Rica for the film to be a co-production and not just a European production that was going to shoot in Costa Rica. For other Costa Rican directors, it is difficult.

They have to attend co-production forums and sometimes having enough budget to produce a film can take several years so many of them ultimately fail to materialize.


But when it was time to tell a story, you went back to your country. Why did you have to tell it there?

I was born and raised in Costa Rica. In general, I am always looking for the origins of what I am and that is there in Costa Rica. It is what it is.

Probably, it would have been easier to get money if I had made the film in France with a French casting. But I also feel that my desire is guided by the fact that there have been no films made in Costa Rica that show the city, the middle class, and other images of Central America.

It is a mixture of my own process of telling intimate stories and also of my need to be a Costa Rican filmmaker. That is also why so many filmmakers are emerging in Central America or in countries where there is not a robust cinema industry because the weight of the business model is not so overwhelming. And that is good.


 How did it occur to you to tell the story of this girl and this family?

I actually mixed a little bit of my two previous shorts. One was about the relationship of a somewhat dysfunctional father and the other was about an adolescent sexual awakening. So, I felt the need to bring these two stories together and the theme of violence came up in the writing process.

But in reality, what interests me is developing characters and the relationships they have with each other, which are complex. There was the structure and the topic, which initially I did not want to address.

But I allowed myself to be a little more ambiguous and perhaps for this reason, for certain people, it is a little more realistic since I did not want to talk about the topic in a didactic or central way.


Talk about the actors who, I imagine, will have a great future.

They will have a great future after this movie! They taught me to direct actors because I created characters. I love to write the script in a very detailed way although I know that sometimes the details disappear when the shooting starts.

It was a bit difficult for me to abandon the characters and let the actors take possession of the story. At one point, I had to adapt to what they were and what they had to contribute and it was very nice.

We worked a lot before filming, like a month and a half or two, in which we just saw each other and improvised, never the actual scenes but we tried to get closer to what the characters were and what they were going to become.

They gave me all their trust. That’s what one expects from actors – that they give themselves and that they are not afraid, and in that, they were extremely brave.



How difficult is it to do casting when there is no industry, as is the case in Costa Rica?

It is difficult in the sense that it is true that I like professional actors. I would have loved to have more of them in my film but it is true that there is little culture of acting in front of the camera.

Sometimes this is a problem. However, thanks to having done so many castings, I feel that there is a lot of talent. In reality, what is missing are films.

That is why I want to continue doing them there because every time I work in one, I discover people I would like to share the set with. Now I have an idea of ​​why I want to return, what I want to shoot, and who are the people I met who are very talented.

Although several of them are not professionals. They have never acted but they are interested in cinema. They have a lot of personality and could make great characters, so no, it’s not that hard, actually.


In your film, there is a very complex relationship between a father and a daughter. Was that in the script or did it come from working with the actors?

That was in the script because I have always been interested in the instability of family relationships and breaking with the preconceived ideas that one has of what a father, a daughter or a brother is.

People prefer to imagine that everything is very well structured and that the borders are delimited when in reality, it is not like that. One is always brushing against the Oedipus complex and with underlying situations of very strong violence. I do not think that this is even a problem. It’s just like that.

So, my idea was to represent a little bit how a father can be a teenager or a best friend. That is, the relationship can transform from one minute to the next. I wanted to tell this without it being traumatic but something that happens, especially in middle-class artistic families.

My parents’ generation already tried to break with very rigid models to give themselves certain freedom that, on the one hand, is fine but it generates gray areas that are very dizzying. That’s what I like about real life.


The city of San José is one of the characters in your film, which is not a place that appears too often on camera.

I wanted to include San José because it is a city that I have a lot of affection for and that Costa Ricans consider very ugly but it has many stories to tell. Actually, San José has a lot of personality and it transforms when you see it in the movies.

So, I’m sure I’m going to continue shooting there because what it needs, apart from many improvements in its infrastructure, is that its neighbors love it a little bit. And for that, you have to feed the imagination. And of course, cinema allows that.


How do you feel that suddenly in your country, they look at you with so much enthusiasm?

I am living in Europe because I tried to return to Costa Rica and it did not work. It is surprising that they have that enthusiasm because I always thought that no one is not a prophet in his own land.

People haven’t seen Tengo sueños eléctricos yet, so I’m waiting to see how the Costa Rican public will react. They may not like it but with just the enthusiasm they have shown, it makes me very happy and generates a lot of affection.

I feel that this happens because these things are important for Costa Rican cinema and that is why people value it. It goes that way, not only because of me or my feature film but because the public is finding out that we are telling our stories and there’s a need to be attentive and to continue supporting cinema.


Translation by Mario Amaya