Puerto Rico’s film industry is still very much up-and-coming, but any average Joe can close his eyes and conjure up an image of life on la Isla del Encanto: palm trees and perreo, beaches, salsa, and bold colors. But while this isn’t too far off for the vast majority of the island’s residents, it doesn’t quite account for the more conservative, old-fashioned lifestyle of the island’s mountainous interior.
Luckily husband-and-wife duo Arí Maniel Cruz and Kisha Tikina Burgos have finally stepped in to offer the world an unapologetic and unvarnished vision of life in the small towns of Puerto Rico’s monte adentro. Screenwriter Burgos, who also acts in the film, based the screenplay for Antes que cante el gallo on her own life experience growing up in Barranquitas, and thanks to this personal touch the low-budget feature oozes authenticity.
The film tells the story of a young girl on the cusp of adolescence who is left to live with her grandmother after her mother leaves for the United States. The young girl’s rebellious nature and pre-teen curiosity put her at odds with her abuela, and things get thrown for a loop when her estranged father returns to town and awakens conflicted feelings of sexual attraction. Naturally, these are not easy subjects to deal with, but Burgos and Cruz have already shown themselves unafraid to wade into uncomfortable narrative territory with their previous feature Under My Nails, which won an award at the New York International Latino Film Festival back in 2012.
Antes que cante el gallo is shot in a simple and straightforward style that puts the emotional intensity squarely on the shoulders of its actors, of whom newcomer Mirando Purcell is clearly the film’s great discovery. The score was provided by none other than multi-instrumentalist wiz Eduardo Cabra — aka Visitante of Calle 13 fame — which provides an effective counterpoint to the drama’s hand-held, documentary-like cinematography.
Antes que cante el gallo premiered at the Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam where it won top prize before taking its show on the road to the Panama International Film Festival. The film will continue its festival run later this year with a stop at Mexico’s prestigious Morelia Film Festival.