If you get the sense you’ve been hearing a lot about Costa Rican cinema lately, that’s probably because the Ticos are blowin’ up. Just this year, the regionalist comedy Maikol Yordan de viaje perdido set local box office records in its first weekend, while indie features like Viaje and Por las plumas haver premiered at some of the world’s most highly respected film festivals. And the land of pura vida’s not stopping there. The country’s latest box office phenomenon is from director Esteban Ramírez, who set the last box office record with his feature Gestación back in 2009 – a title which lasted six years.
His most recent feature Presos may not have had matched the draw of Maikol Yordan, which sold over 56,000 tickets during its run, but as of September 20, it had come damn close. Presos spent the last half of the month at number one in most Costa Rican box offices and blew away Gestación‘s record by selling more than 40,000 tickets. It might not sound like much, but for a nation of under 5 million and screenings in only 16 theaters, Presos made out pretty well. To top things off, Costa Rica’s governing film body went ahead and selected the film to represent the country for Academy Awards consideration, where it won out over Patricia Velásquez’s Dos Aguas. Explaining why they opted for Presos, the Academy cited the film’s stellar acting, as well as its production design and visual style, which certainly put it a league above Maikol Yordan.
Taking a glance at Presos’ trailer, it’s easy to appreciate what all the fuss is about. The story of a young woman who falls in love with a prisoner and begins to question her own life is complemented by slick cinematography, naturalistic performances, and a cast of real-life prisoners to add a touch of verisimilitude to the film’s gritty setting. A soundtrack rounded out by big-time alt-Latin Costa Rican conjunto Sonámbulo Psicotropical and some especially agile editing give the sense that we’re in the presence of a well-packaged cinematic product. With long lines and sold out screenings, Costa Rican audiences seem to agree.