A bright new talent emerges from Puerto Rico in writer/director Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz, whose debut feature Maldeamores (aka Lovesickness) is a warm-hearted and witty tryptych of stories about the dysfunctions and masochism of love. The film had a strong reception at its Tribeca Film Festival world premiere last week and it should play myriad festivals before its run is over, winning over audiences wherever it screens.
It's a minor work which runs to just 90 minutes, but arthouse buyers and Latin specialists should go out of their way to see it, if only to keep an eye on Ruiz Ruiz for the future.
It also marks a calling card for the tiny Puerto Rican industry, and was among the first projects to be given a grant by the PR Film Corporation's 2003 incentive law.
Ruiz Ruiz is influenced by the new Latin American cinema movement and his realistic, handheld shooting style and gritty working-class settings are not so far removed from Amores Perros or City Of God. The difference here is that he is so generous in his humanity that even the most disturbed characters are sympathetic.
The film is bookended by two sequences in which a couple drive along a barren highway, getting into arguments about the pettiest things - a song on the radio, for example - and ending with the woman opening her door and hurling herself out of the car. The couple set the tragic-comic tone of the subsequent three interweaving stories.
In the first, Ismael (Guzman) and his distraught wife Lourdes (Hernandez) and son Ismaelito (Torres) are driving to the funeral of Lourdes' grandmother. But when they stop for a toilet break, Lourdes finds out from her brother-in-law that Ismael has been cheating on her with her cousin. While she sets off on her own to find her cousin and confront her, Ismaelito meets his first girlfriend.
In the second story, an elderly couple, Flora (Brito) and Cyrilo (Marrero), who have been living in the same house for 28 years, despite being divorced for the last 12 of them, are faced with the arrival of a houseguest, Flora's first husband Pellin (Alvarez) who abandoned her and their children many years before. Although reluctant to take him in, Flora is soon seduced by Pellin to the consternation of the jealous Cyrilo.
The third story follows a disturbed man Miguel (Gonzaga) who lives with his controlling mother. One day, he proposes to a busdriver Marta (Pedro) with whom he says he has fallen in love. When she laughs him off, he takes out a gun and hijacks the bus she is driving, holding the passengers hostage until a priest arrives to marry them.
Each story has a bittersweet resolution, but there is much humour along the way and the actors are uniformly strong, never resorting to sentimentality in the portrayals of their lovesick madness.
Brito, a New York-based actress who was brought in to play Flora, is especially vibrant, representing the heart of the film as a woman finally in charge of her desires and her men.
Pajaritos Prenaos Films
Benicio Del Toro
Donald K Ranvaud
Carlitos Ruiz Ruiz
Norma 'Lizzie' Cuello
Mariem Perez Riera
Omar Silva Melendez
Fernando Javier Tarrazo Torres
Jose Luis Marrero
Miguel Angel Alvarez