San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Tr3s Marias’ joins Tico feature film lineup

From the print edition

Much has been said about Costa Rica’s absence of a cinema industry. There isn’t a lot of money thrown behind films, and the lack of affordable, modern technology and educational programs doesn’t help matters. As a result, Costa Rica can’t compete with Mexican moviemaking, much less the Hollywood machine.

Regardless, certain ambitious filmmakers in Costa Rica refuse to be deterred, and there are indications that the country’s inchoate movie industry may be outgrowing its baby clothes. Four high-quality Costa Rican films have recently emerged to rave reviews, proclamations of cultural importance and prominent awards. The newest of those is “Tr3s Marias,” a gritty social drama written and directed by Francisco González, whose friends call him Paco.

“Cinema is a tool to show the hidden realities you don’t normally see,” said González, a Chilean transplant who has worked on an impressive array of films in Chile, Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica.

In 1995, he worked odd jobs for the box office smash “Titanic,” and in 1997 he was a second unit cameraman for “Waterworld.” Two years later, he replaced a second unit cameraman partway through the shooting of “Amores perros,” the Mexican film that popularized director Alejandro González Iñárritu and received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2000 Academy Awards.

In a recent interview at the office of The Tico Times, Francisco González called Alejandro González “a special person,” and said he was impressed with the director’s grand vision for “Amores perros.” He was also drawn to the storytelling technique the Mexican employed, and he pays homage to it with his own interweaving narratives in his first feature film, “Tr3s Marias.”

The film, which was artfully shot over the course of just 10 nights on the streets of south and central San José, explores the sagas of one teenager, one woman and one young sex worker, all called María. The women’s three narratives are weighted with social issues plaguing not just urban Costa Rica but all Latin American cities; they include domestic violence, sexual exploitation, drug abuse and trafficking, guns, crime, machismo and a lack of opportunities for young people.

Some of the characters face serious financial burdens, and it’s likely that many of those involved in the film’s creation could relate. None of the actors or actresses have been paid yet, and some of the entities that put up money for the film are still waiting to get it back, González said. Big B Entertainment contributed, as did the Embassy of the Netherlands.

“So far, this project has cost approximately $45,000, nothing compared to most feature films,” González said.

Working with a budget that small was no easy task, but friends donated their homes for filming, and Costa Rican companies donated food and drinks to keep the cast nourished. Radio Beatz 106 FM let González do the postproduction work in its studio.

The lack of financial resources and institutional support has been offset by the effort and work of the professionals, explains a “Tr3s Marias” production write-up created by González’s girlfriend, Rita Azar.

Azar has been handling the promotion of the film, which was recently declared “of cultural significance” by the Culture Ministry for its emphasis on social issues and “visual excellence, acting and storyline” – despite its small budget.

“This film aims to strengthen the audiovisual culture, offering elements and perspectives that contribute to the consolidation of our identity,” says the declaration. “It also forwards Costa Rica’s niche film industry for an international market.”

The film may soon be designated “of public interest” as well, Azar said.

In addition to “Tr3s Marias,” two Costa Rican films in the past year have achieved cultural significance. “El Regreso,” a drama about a man who returns to his native Costa Rica after a decade in the U.S., sold out in theaters last fall and won Best International Feature at the New York International Latino Film Festival. “Odyssey 2050,” an animated documentary about climate change, was declared of public and cultural interest in 2011 by President Laura Chinchilla.

Another Costa Rican feature film, “El Fin,” opened in late February and remains in theaters. Shot in Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula, Moravia to the northeast of San José and at Heredia’s police station,  the film took second place in the people’s choice category of Mexico’s Morbid Film Fest of Fantasy and Horror. About two friends on their last day on earth, “El Fin” is the third feature film by Costa Rican director Miguel Gómez.

González may be from Chile, but he set out to make a “100 percent Costa Rican” film. “The characters, the way of speaking, the streets and the situation are all San José and Costa Rica,” he said. “The characters will remind Costa Ricans of themselves, and of people they know.”

In addition to being a film created predominantly by and for Ticos, the film is also very much an expression of González’s personal vision – a work of “cinema d’auteur,” as he likes to say. Although he spent much of his career as a director of photography, for “Tr3s Marias” he took the reigns as writer, director, editor and director of photography. González started his own production company, Oveja Negra (Black Sheep), in 2006, and he’s done plenty of commercials, educational videos and short films. But “Tr3s Marias” is his first feature film, and therefore it is his baby.

So while he has a pointed dislike of dictators – he was actually expelled from a university in Chile for protesting against Pinochet in 1986 – he does like the idea of having complete control over a film.

“I apologize for any violations of any rights of the people involved in my film,” he said.

“Tr3s Marias” premiers March 23 in theaters around Costa Rica.

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