True to its title, El techo (On the Roof) only takes place on the rooftops of Havana. Three young daydreamers spend their days together up above the bustle of Cuba’s capital. They chat, they laugh, they even dance the days away in Patricia Ramos‘ feature film debut. Yasmani (Enmanuel Galbán) tends to his palomar while snooping on that sexy neighbor downstairs. Anita (Andrea Doimeadiós), who’s pregnant, passes the time buying cheap hand me downs for her child and wondering who the father might be. And Vito (Jonhatan Navarro), who’s grandmother once told him he comes from a Sicilian family, is intent on traveling to Italy to meet that side of the family. Ramos’ stories are funny and down to earth, offering a much welcome look at contemporary Cuba.
One need only look at its title sequence, which looks straight out of a Hollywood comedy. Offering a minimalist and cartoony version of those rooftops, the Saul Bass-looking titles set the tone for what is ultimately a romantic comedy. Only, don’t expect a love triangle, though the chemistry between its three leads is palpable especially in those laid-back scenes where they lounge around while Anita takes selfies with her smartphone.
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The choice to set her film on those azoteas in Havana was, for Ramos, key. It’s something so specific to Cuba, she told Granma, that while it’s been seen in other Cuba-set films (see El rey de la Habana and Viva, for some recent examples), she wanted to create an entire world around them. It makes every scene feel all the more alive, with the camera catching new views of the city, always suggesting a more open and expansive world than the one Vito, Anita, and Yasmani live in.
The film, which shot at the same time as Fate of the Furious was taking over Havana to film its explosive action-packed sequences, does plenty with its sparse cast and its mundane situations. When the three young friends decide to open a pizzeria on the roof, the small entrepreneurial venture becomes just another example of the Cuban hustle that Ramos’s characters embody. It’s a modest success, made possible by making the most out of what little they’ve got. The notion of an Italian-style pizzeria operated solely out of a makeshift rooftop kitchen that delivers its pizzas via a series of pulleys and ropes around the neighborhood sounds all too quirky. You’d think it an implausible plot line, yet as Ramos shared with Variety following the film’s premiere at the Havana Film Festival back in December, “There’s now a real pizzeria on the rooftop where we shot.” Proof that where there’s a will there’s a way.