Even after more than seven decades, the Cannes Film Festival is still handing out firsts. This year, Sofía Quirós Ubeda’s Ceniza Negra (Land of Ashes) became the first-ever Costa Rican feature film to be selected for competition at the lauded French festival. The Argentine and Costa Rican filmmaker has made a career out of working with non-professional actors and creating films that explore their characters intimate worlds with a poetic vision that highlights atmosphere and emotion. She’s no stranger to the red carpets at La Croisette. Ubeda attended Cannes back in 2017 with her short film, Selva, which starred Smachleen Gutiérrez as the titular character; the teenage actor reprises her role in Ceniza Negra.
Set in the South Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica with non-actors from the Limón province, the lush drama follows Selva as she slowly sees her family unit unravel. Her father shows no signs of coming back. Elena (dancer Hortensia Smith), the only motherly figure she knows, disappears at the town festivities. Her grandfather (Humberto Samuels) obsesses over his imaginary goats as he inches ever closer to letting himself die. Between imaginary landscapes and mysterious shadows, Selva debates whether to help her grandfather achieve his death wish, even though this means she’d be alone through her last moments of childhood.
As its first trailer shows, Ceniza Negra aims for a poetic kind of naturalism, with the authenticity that comes from the actors being pit against a darkened and more magical backdrop. Beware though, this first look has a handful of snakes slithering through its ashes so take in stride as you watch it in full below.