HomeMoviesVenice Film Festival Review: Oceans are the Real Continents

Venice Film Festival Review: Oceans are the Real Continents

Photo Credit: Rosamont

The black-and-white Oceans Are The Real Continents is subtly intoxicating. Its opening is an evolution of motion, starting with a shot of Alex (Alexander Diego: all actors share the first name of their characters, so all the actor listings will only have their last names), affixed to a crucifix, a shot of his lover, Edith (Ibarra), standing still, across from him, a shot of a mostly still crowd with a few moving children, and then, a wide shot of all three elements, with Alex’s crucifix-raft slowly taking him out of frame. Then, the title card. 

This opening may feel grating, almost like a satire of an arthouse film, but writer-director Tommaso Santambrogio has a specific purpose with this opening. While also setting up the film’s themes and the doomed nature of Alex and Edith’s relationship, it’s this evolution of motion that allows you to fall under the film’s spell. The camera is stable for the vast majority of the two hour runtime, so it’s primarily about the motion within the frame. 

When juxtaposed with this opening, our introduction to Milagros (Lanes Martinez), an old woman merely sweeping her home, in and out of frame, will feel like a breath of life in this slice-of-life treasure. So follows Alex and Edith’s proceeding hike, ending with them swimming in a cave. The most dynamic shot comes after their swimming, as a group of children sit on an open-air truck on their way to school. Their propulsive stability feels indicative of childhood in general: they have an energy of their own, even if most of their motion is defined by the world around them. 

The question is, with all this emphasis on motion, where are the characters moving to? With Edith and Alex, the answer is telegraphed in that opening scene, but it’s no less difficult for them to accept. Edith is an aspiring puppeteer, and a marvelous one at that. Her puppet only moves so much when she practices, but when we finally see her show, it’s a thing of beauty. She’s talented, and she wants to take her talents elsewhere. Outside of Cuba, which is exactly where Alex does not want to go. Even if Alex is the one floating away in the opening scene, it’s Edith who is ultimately free. 

Milagros’s love is not one she’s losing, but already lost. She spends her time reading letters from her late husband, who was presumably in Angola in 1989. In one of the few images where the camera itself moves, she’s sitting out on her patio, hanging the letters to dry after a flood, and the camera pans up as she weeps. Her life is defined by what’s behind her, a loss she can never salvage. When she visits the train station that he was meant to come home through, it’s difficult to parse if this is an admirable hope that we could all aspire to, or a tragic, aimless one that threatens to crush our ability to live. The film presents this dichotomy of hope in the two children we follow, Frank (Ernesto Lam) and Alain (Alfonso Gonzalez), who both aspire to be U.S. baseball stars. However, with their childish enthusiasm, there’s a sense of resignation. Resignation to their families, to the thought that their childhood days may be their only time spent with this game, and resignation to the world. 

This resignation and the overarching, depressing tone may lead to some issues. Tommaso Santambrogio is a talented filmmaker, and that the film feels as though it could take place at any time is a testament to the craft he and his collaborators dedicated. However, as he is an Italian filmmaker, one might conceivably look at this portrayal as patronizing, or even misery porn. The lack of any modern technology might give the film a timeless feel, but it could also feed into a patronizing fetishization of the other, making it, simultaneously, an almost primeval paradise that’s also just so tragic, when Cuba is, in fact, a place where people have cell phones like you and me. Plus, if Alex being stuck to a crucifix is meant to establish his stubborn insistence on staying in Cuba, what might one think this says about Cuba? 

With that said, as a white American critic, it is only my place to say so much, and the previous paragraph isn’t meant to hold Santambogio’s feet to the fire. It was simply an attempt to acknowledge the possibility of criticisms that other perspectives may have. 

From this perspective, Oceans Are The Real Continents remains a meticulously crafted and absorbing film. Its unique images, intoxicating tone, and compelling characterizations make it a worthy watch. It’s just one that should be approached with relative caution. 


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