It’s not every day – or every year – that a Costa Rican film comes to a multiplex near you. Many will probably go to “Gestación,” set in San José and directed by Esteban Ramírez, just to see their city onscreen; my own opinion of the movie was certainly swayed by the excitement of watching scenes played out in Chepe, at the Parque Nacional or the Mall San Pedro. But “Gestación” offers much more than local color. It’s a well-written and compelling film that achieves a considerable feat: capturing a certain place and time, while also transcending them.
You might remember Ramírez from “Caribe” (2004), set in and around the southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo. It was lush and gorgeous, with a heavy-handed approach and a lack of focus. His newest production is a very different, and much better, movie, revealing a lighter hand, appealing characters and deft comedy.
The script – which follows the relationship of teenagers Jessie, from a poor neighborhood in the northern district of Pavas, and Teo, who hails from a richer family across town – was inspired by a case in which a pregnant high-school student spoke out against discrimination she faced at school. It is also one of the most realistic teenage love stories you could hope to find onscreen, complete with food-court rendezvous, emotional text messages, lust, stupidity and tenderness.
The movie showcases young actors who make the future of Costa Rican cinema seem bright indeed. Adriana Alvarez is a standout as Jessie – charismatic, expressive and so natural that the camera seems to have stumbled upon her by accident. Edgar Román, as Teo, is a bit forced at times, but strikes the right balance of immaturity and soulful potential. Natalia Arias steals all her scenes as the irrepressible Alba, giving the movie its belly laughs, and María Silva and Xinia Rojas, as the couple’s long-suffering mothers, are steady anchors.
As in “Caribe,” the photography is what stays with us long after the credits roll. Ramírez captures and elevates the good, bad and ugly of everyday San José: a spray of electrical wires across a cloudy sky; shacks of corrugated tin in uneven, leaning rows; a tiny Saprissista in his purple shirt; the neon pinks and oranges of a smoggy sunset; hanging bouquets of leather sandals in the Central Market; and love, in many forms, in this film that feels like home.