SUNDANCE REVIEW: Ticket to Paradise

Cuban drama never quite gels despite absorbing storyline.

Director Gerardo Chijona Valdes guides the actors to realistic performances, though the Cuban drama's last third begins to feel contrived.

PARK CITY — Based on actual events following the dissolution of the USSR and ensuing economic chaos in Cuba, Gerardo Chijona Valdes’ feature Ticket to Paradise is anything but, depicting the often harrowing struggles of neglected teens trying to survive on the streets amidst of a faltering economy. A perceptive and sensitive portrayal of a runaway country girl’s coming of age, the film will find a home with Central America-leaning fests and sidebars, although U.S. theatrical release is less assured.

When she’s caught stealing at school, it’s just one more strike against impoverished, teenaged Eunice (Miriel Cejas). Trapped at home with a single father who molests her, Eunice’s options are rapidly diminishing, forcing her to flee home and seek out her older sister living in a distant city. It’s not long before she meets up with three similarly desperate runaways from her hometown headed for Havana. Calling themselves “freakies,” they’re all hard-nosed kids hooked on prescription drugs and heavy metal music, but attractive Alejandro (Héctor Medina) is more sympathetic than his friends, taking an immediate liking to Eunice as they help her escape.

Finally reaching her sister’s home and presumed refuge only to find her father waiting for her there, Eunice bolts again, ending up in Havana searching for her recent acquaintances. They welcome her back and she’s soon immersed in hardknock streetlife, trading her country appearance and attitudes for a hardscrabble existence of homelessness and petty crime.

Alejandro’s companionship and support sustain her as Eunice gradually loses her wariness and falls in love with him, only to feel the sting of rejection when he makes a fateful decision that he hopes will resolve his problems. Definitively on her own once again, Eunice must find a way to forge a life for herself in the pitiless city.

Valdes directs the young cast sympathetically and realistically, allowing the characters’ stories and destinies to evolve organically from the material. The final third of the film becomes increasingly forced and implausible, however, dulling the impact of the early scenes. Cejas and Medina are persuasive as the troubled teens, but the plot ultimately leaves them with only predictable outcomes. Despite the film’s setting, there’s rarely any sense of Cuba’s economic crisis at that time and its impact on the characters’ lives.

Production values are acceptably rough-edged, featuring a restrained visual style distinguished principally by its service to the narrative.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production company: Malas Companias  
Cast: Miriel Cejas, Héctor Medina, Dunia Matos, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García
Director: Gerardo Chijona Valdes
Screenwriters: Gerardo Chijona Valdes, Francisco Garcia Gonzalez, Maykel Rodriguez PonjuanProducers: Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, Brent Stewart
Producers: Camilo Vives, Antonio Hens, José Antonio Varela
Executive producer: Isabel Prendes
Director of photography: Raúl Pérez Ureta
Music: Edesio Alejandro
Editor: Miriam Talavera
No rating, 88 minutes