While Puerto Rico may be weathering dire economic straits, it seems the island’s creative class is as dynamic as it’s ever been, and now Puerto Rican cinema can go ahead and add another check to its growing list of accomplishments. Just this week, it was announced that the debut feature from Puerto Rican helmer Ángel Manuel Soto Vázquez, entitled La Granja, will have its world premiere at Austin’s venerable Fantastic Fest.
While the festival is perhaps best known as a celebration of all things genre, it is first and foremost a cinephile’s festival, and Soto recently spoke to the Puerto Rican daily Primera Hora to share his deep gratification about the news. It is also a historical milestone, given the fact that La Granja represents the first Puerto Rican film to ever be featured in the festival’s official selection.
The feature takes Puerto Rico’s economic crisis as the backdrop for a series of interconnecting stories à la Amores Perros. In this twisted take on a fictionalized Puerto Rico, drug addiction and economic depression are the order of the day. One vignette follows a middle aged ex-boxer who trains his ambitious son for a youth boxing championship while he struggles with a cockfighting debt; another follows a midwife desperate for her own child; and the last dramatizes a young girl’s attempts to win the attention of her drug-addicted older sister. In the fruitless pursuit of hope, all three characters are eventually pushed to the limits of desperation.
Prior to shooting La Granja, Soto had already racked up extensive experience directing commercials, music videos, and short films, and his confidence behind the camera is writ large across La Granja’s official teaser. While the two-minute clip gives us little in the way of plot, it is heavy on atmosphere, with evocative cinematography revealing the unstable world that these characters inhabit and the stakes of their conflicts. The soundtrack is suppressed in favor of a spacey, ethereal electronic score that makes the whole thing feel mysterious and unsettling.
According to IMDb, La Granja was shot on a tiny budget of $250,000, but it seems Soto’s strong visual sense, along with powerful performances by the main cast, will more than make up for any material scarcity.