In Theaters

Many of us have likely had experiences where we walk around in a fog wondering who we really are. Whether it’s determining the nature of our calling or the scope of our talents or some other consideration, from time to time we’ve all gone through episodes like this where we feel we’re lost and unable to find our way. There may be clues to help point the way, but they may be vague, fragmented or seemingly unrelated to one another, offering little assistance and perhaps confusing matters even more. Our best hope in situations like this is that a clear path will reveal itself to set us on our way, enabling us to become who we were meant to be. Such is the case with a hero in training seeking to discover herself and live up to her full potential, the central thrust of the thrilling new action-adventure saga, “Captain Marvel” (web site, trailer).

On the planet Hala, home world of a race of noble warriors known as the Kree, Starforce cadet Vers (Brie Larson) is troubled by her dreams. These nighttime visions feature people and events that are ostensibly unknown to her but that also possess a strangely vague familiarity. That’s particularly true when it comes to images of a charismatic middle-aged woman who makes recurrent appearances. But the lack of ready answers to this conundrum bothers Vers; as someone who’s quickly riled and easily motivated to get to the bottom of matters, she grows restless with the lack of definitive resolution.

Superhero extraordinaire Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) sees her tremendous powers emerge thanks to a series of incredible events and profound introspection in the blockbuster new adventure, “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

Unsure what to do, Vers turns to her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), for advice. He recommends that she work on controlling her emotions (before they control her), especially in light of the magnitude of her ample special powers, such as an ability to blast powerful proton ray bolts from her fists. So, to attain the self-control and peace of mind she seeks, he encourages her to take an audience with the Supreme Intelligence, a fusion of consciousness and A.I. that governs and advises the Kree, particularly in matters of discovering and understanding their true selves.

Vers agrees with her mentor’s suggestions and decides to seek the S.I.’s counsel. This protean, enigmatic energy-based entity communicates with its petitioners by assuming the form of the individual each of them subconsciously most admires. For Vers, the S.I. takes the shape of the woman from her dreams (Annette Bening), affirming for her that this stranger is apparently someone for whom she holds a deep-seeded respect. But for what purpose?

Starforce Leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) provides much-needed guidance to a wary cadet in the exciting new superhero release, “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

Vers comes away from the experience no more enlightened than when she went in, although the visit apparently triggers enhanced recall of her repressed memories, which obviously must be important to her, even if she can’t determine their significance or pinpoint the source of their origin. She attempts to set the issue aside as she prepares for her next military assignment, a rescue mission to retrieve a Kree spy captured by the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifters with whom her people are at war. However, while carrying out her duties, Vers is captured by the Skrulls’ commander, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). But, as someone who is not one easily detained, the resourceful cadet makes her getaway when an opportunity presents itself, fleeing in an escape pod that sends her barreling toward a mysterious planet designated C-53, otherwise known as Earth.

Separated from her peers in a place called Los Angeles in the year 1995, Vers desperately seeks to reunite with her fellow warriors. But, given their faraway location and the “primitive” communications technology of the planet on which she now finds herself, arranging a rendezvous takes some doing. And, considering that the cadet’s less-than-discreet arrival has drawn considerable attention from authorities, Vers scrambles to establish a low profile, not an easy task with both government officials and Skrull insurgents in hot pursuit.

Starforce cadet Vers (Brie Larson, left) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, right) embark on an incredible earthly adventure in the year 1995 in the spellbinding new superhero release, “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

In the midst of the chaos, Vers encounters Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), an agent of a clandestine government organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). Given the extraordinary events unfolding around them, Fury is unexpectedly drawn into an investigation that’s far above his pay grade. Nevertheless, he’s so intrigued that he seeks to assist Vers in whatever way he can. Drawing upon his high-level clearances, Fury helps Vers gain access to secret government facilities where the mystery behind her dream images is slowly revealed.

“Vers,” as it turns out, is a variation on the name she went by when she lived the life of an earthly human, Carol Danvers, a test pilot who was allegedly killed in a crash six years earlier. What’s more, upon further investigation, Vers/Carol learns that the mysterious woman from her dreams was Dr. Wendy Lawson, a Kree aeronautics scientist pronounced dead in that same crash, who came to Earth in human form to secretly work on developing technology that she believed would end the war in which her people were bitterly embroiled. But, as significant as those discoveries are, they pale in comparison to the biggest one of all – the reason why Dr. Lawson was working on her technology in the first place, a revelation that makes clear much of what Vers has long believed about her world and her people is far from the truth.

Test pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson, right) and her best friend, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch, left), seek to soar to new heights in the thrilling new action-adventure saga, “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Film Frame © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

Armed with this information, Vers/Carol commits to seeing through Dr. Lawson’s goal. She joins forces with her onetime best friend, fellow test pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), along with Fury and several other unexpected allies (including Dr. Lawson’s specially gifted cat, Goose (Reggie/Gonzo/Archie/Rizzo)), to carry out this mission. It’s an undertaking that ushers forth an array of unexpected new developments for two worlds at war. But, on a personal level, it also brings about significant changes in the protagonist herself, empowering new attributes that are truly something to marvel at.

The incredible journey of this remarkable woman is truly something to see, not only in terms of the extraordinary nature of the circumstances, but also with regard to the personal transformation she undergoes. Her true self emerges from her inner depths, surfacing to take its rightful place in her world. It’s a process that calls upon Vers to take an introspective look at who she really is, an endeavor requiring her to grasp the meaning of her character. Understanding this is important, for it shapes the reality of who she is and what she experiences.

Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) takes on his worthy enemies, the Kree, in the self-titled origin story of superhero “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

During her time on Hala, Vers has only a vague sense of who she is. It bothers her, too, which is why she so earnestly seeks to eliminate that uncertainty. This explains her experiences with the Supreme Intelligence, her repressed memory recall and her eventual journey to Earth, all of which set up the opportunity for the truth to emerge – and for her true nature to come out.

This process involves not only a revelatory understanding of her present circumstances; it also requires her accessing a past of which she knows virtually nothing. It calls for her to get in touch with experiences deeply buried in another time. This provides valuable insights into her younger self, first as a child (London Fuller) and then as an adolescent (Mckenna Grace). Vers/Carol sees who she was, an adventurous spitfire who was often discouraged from partaking in activities in which girls weren’t supposed to engage, an attitude routinely promoted by authority figures, such as her father (Kenneth Mitchell).

As discouraging as these positions were, though, young Carol refused to let them hold her back. She believed in herself and her abilities and didn’t hesitate to act upon them in bringing about the existence she experienced. It’s what enabled her to become a test pilot, for example. And, in a less than conscious way, it’s also what allowed her to become a Starforce cadet, even though she wasn’t fully aware of what she was getting herself into. But, as difficult as this path was, it’s also what brought forth the ultimate expression of her true self as a seeker of peace and a protector of the downtrodden, her emergence as a superhero, Captain Marvel.

Plucky feline Goose (Reggie/Gonzo/Archie/Rizzo) proves to be quite a formidable ally and adversary in the superhero action-adventure, “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

Captain Marvel’s accomplishments go beyond her feats of heroics; they reveal her as a character who can do more than just beat up the bad guys. They also reveal her as someone who is a shining beacon of compassion, one who cares profoundly for the needs and well-being of others, particularly those who are unable to adequately fend for themselves. But, even more importantly, they show her as an example of someone who deeply inspires others, particularly those of her gender, such as Maria’s preteen daughter Monica (Akira Akbar), a youngster cut from the same cloth as her beloved Auntie Carol. These aspects of the protagonist’s story are perhaps as important as anything she does to vanquish the evildoers, revealing what truly makes a superhero “super.”

Hands down, “Captain Marvel” is the best superhero movie I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s excellent in every regard – well written and well acted, without an overreliance on action or special effects gimmickry to carry the story. Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson, while best known for her dramatic turns in films like “Short Term 12” (2013) and “Room” (2015), seamlessly steps into the role of superhero, capably supported by a cast of colorful supporting players who add humor, intrigue and warmth to a well-constructed narrative. Frankly, I don’t care how well or how poorly this offering fits into the larger Marvel Comics Universe mythology or the overall marketing strategy of the franchise; I judge a film on its individual merits, and, on this score, this picture succeeds brilliantly on every front. This release does what a movie of this genre should – entertain, inspire and leave viewers feel as though they’ve genuinely gotten their money’s worth from the theatrical experience.

Former test pilot Carol Danvers-turned Starforce cadet Vers emerges as a formidable superhero in the self-titled origin story of “Captain Marvel.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures USA.

Breaking through the barriers that keep us from seeing, understanding and appreciating the truth about ourselves can be a genuinely fulfilling experience. It allows us to assess and draw upon our own unique set of personal capabilities, skills and talents that have the potential to do a lot of good in the world – and beyond. The example offered here provides us with a tremendous source of inspiration to see this through – and to attain goals that are super in every sense of the word.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Paradise Lost

We all love it when we come up with what we think of as a great idea. We envision possibilities for success that meet, if not exceed, our expectations. But how often do we think through such notions thoroughly? Failing to do so can carry significant implications, some that may even threaten the existence we know and enjoy. Such is the case for a tribe of native people flirting with the ways of the modern world in the captivating new Colombian release, “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verano”) (web site, trailer).

It’s amazing how quickly life can change. For the Wayúu people of Colombia’s northern Guajira Peninsula, their long-established way of life did just that in the late 1960s – and not for the better. That story is the stuff of which this fact-based film is made.

In 1968, when the young and lovely Zaida (Natalia Reyes) emerges from a year of confinement during which she transforms from an adolescent into a woman, the community celebrates her arrival into adulthood – and her availability to take a mate. Would-be suitors vie for her hand, but the potential beau most anxious to wed her is the handsome young Rapayet (a.k.a Rafa) (José Acosta). However, despite his desire and determination to woo Zaida, Rafa has something of a reputation weighing him down. If he’s to win her hand, he’ll have to prove himself especially worthy, and he’ll need all the help he can muster.

Rafa (José Acosta, left) and Zaida (Natalia Reyes, right) engage in an ancient courting ritual of Colombia’s Wayúu people in the captivating new release, “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verano”). Photo by Jenna Martin, courtesy of The Orchard.

Fortunately, Rafa has the strong support of his uncle, Peregrino (José Vicente Cotes), who eagerly talks up his nephew’s many accomplishments in making up for the past and in becoming a successful businessman, particularly in his dealings with the alijunas (outsiders not to be readily trusted). But, even with such backing, Rafa faces an uphill battle in convincing Zaida’s mother, Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), the tribe’s formidable matriarch, to grant him what he seeks.

After lengthy discussions, Úrsula reluctantly agrees to give her daughter’s hand to Rafa if his family can come up with a sizable dowry, one that’s unusually large compared to most typical arrangements. Rafa agrees to the terms, despite Peregrino’s doubts about his nephew’s ability to fulfill the request. What’s more, even after Rafa pledges his word to his future mother-in-law, Úrsula reiterates her reservations; as one who possesses the gift of prophecy and is well-versed in her people’s ancient spiritual ways, she senses Rafa will bring trouble to her family, despite his reassurances that he’ll provide well for Zaida and her clan while honoring the tribe’s customs.

With the arrangements set, Rafa goes about raising the funds he’ll need to pay for the dowry. He deals in various crops, such as coffee beans, with his alijuna friend, Moisés (a.k.a. Moncho) (Jhon Narváez), but the money these transactions generate is far from sufficient to meet his obligations. Things change, however, when the duo meets Peace Corps volunteers (Sebastián Celis, Alice Lebadie) looking for what brought them to Colombia in the first place – marijuana. And, when Rafa and Moncho learn how much the Americans are willing to pay for it, they realize they have a lucrative new business opportunity staring them in the face, one that will cover the cost of the dowry and then some.

Having emerged from a year of confinement in which she transformed from an adolescent into a woman, Zaida (Natalia Reyes) entertains the proposals of would-be suitors in “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verano”). Photo by Nic Izzi, courtesy of The Orchard.

To fulfill their pending order with the gringos, Rafa visits his cousin Aníbal (Juan Bautista Martínez) at his mountain plantation. Aníbal grows marijuana but not in large amounts. Rafa tells his cousin that his customers are willing to pay a hefty price for his crop, one that could turn a tidy profit for both of them and likely lead to an ongoing source of new business. He proposes buying Aníbal’s entire stock to get the ball rolling, a venture that promises to be worthwhile for all concerned. Rafa thus earns the cash to more than cover the dowry; party boy Moncho gets the funds to live larger than he ever dreamed; Aníbal raises the money needed to expand his production; and the gringos get the best pot they’ve ever smoked, and they like it so much that they look to expand their arrangement with the locals, one that’s built on a hefty export business.

Before long, Rafa and Zaida are happily married, the proud parents of two children, Miguel (José Naider) and Indira (Aslenis Márquez). The rest of the family benefits, too, especially Úrsula and Peregrino, who live better than they ever have. Zaida’s younger brother, Leonides (Greider Meza), gets in on the act as well, taking full advantage of the clan’s newfound wealth.

However, despite such tremendous success, as the new decade descends and the demand for pot surges, the once-small-time family dealers see their operation turn into a big business. Suddenly, Rafa and his cohorts must contend with new issues like a stepped-up need for security, competition from rivals and constant government scrutiny necessitating payoffs to officials like the vigilant Corporal Ramírez (Gabriel Mangones), who never misses taking his cut. Such measures require discipline and an orderliness that won’t allow for the intrusion of sloppiness, carelessness or a lack of discretion, behavior becoming increasingly typical of Moncho and Leonides. This change in circumstances calls for changes in practices and procedures in which everyday practicalities come into conflict with longstanding tribal customs and traditions, as well as individual behavior. Some of the adjustments don’t go over well, leading to disagreements, disruption and even death.

Despite tremendous prosperity, Úrsula’s initial concerns, it would seem, start to surface. But, then, Úrsula, like so many other members of the family, has never turned away from availing herself of the wealth that dealing pot has brought them. The bottom line here is that the greed produced through this venture has torn the family apart, corrupting its members and leading to a civil war (or, more accurately, a wholly uncivil war) amongst all involved, a conflict that threatens to wipe out the clan’s culture, destabilize the entire region and disrupt the way of life of the Wayúu people collectively. The reverence and grace that once characterized this tribe of noble souls is on the verge of being lost – and for what? Ego pride? Rampant materialism? Money? This is the question everyone must now ask themselves before it’s too late – if it’s not already.

Tribal matriarch Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez) makes decisions aimed at benefitting her people, as well as herself, in the engaging new Colombian release, “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verano”). Photo by Jenna Martin, courtesy of The Orchard.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and Rafa finds that out for himself when he searches for the means to address the dowry requirements. He sincerely believes he must come up with a solution, a notion that drives his thoughts, intents and actions. But, in tapping into the wisdom of this adage, he – like all of us – would be wise to carefully consider what we invent to address our needs, especially when it comes to such concerns as responsibility and the consequences. Where Rafa’s undertaking is concerned, these issues should be obvious. And, based on how events play out, it’s apparent he hasn’t given much thought to them. He is so preoccupied with achieving his objective that he gives little regard to the fallout associated with it – and what it means to deal with the aftermath.

Not all of the blame rests with Rafa, though. Everyone involved in this scenario plays a part in it. Úrsula, Peregrino, Aníbal, Moncho and Leonides, for instance, all have agendas they want fulfilled and will do whatever it takes to see them realized. Úrsula’s behavior is particularly appalling in that she takes such a hypocritical, holier-than-thou stance when circumstances go awry without ever acknowledging how she’s personally benefitted from the success of the operation.

Maintaining our presence of mind is crucial in such situations, especially when it comes to preserving an established and agreeable way of life. We need to remind ourselves of such matters and keep them at the forefront of our beliefs, which is why we need elements in our lives that serve that purpose. Such is the role played by a singing shepherd (Sergio Coen), one who recants the stories of the old ways as told through native songs, works that serve as the overarching templates for each of the film’s various chapters. The key question, of course, though, is anyone listening? That’s a word to the wise for all of us, not just the native Colombians in this story.

A family of small-time drug dealers looks to the future as they watch their operation grow into a big business, a change prompting significant alterations in the lives (from left) of Peregrino (José Vicente Cotes), Leonides (Greider Meza), Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), Rafa (José Acosta) and Zaida (Natalia Reyes) in “Birds of Passage” (“Pájaros de verano”). Photo by Nic Izzi, courtesy of The Orchard.

Though occasionally predictable and somewhat meandering in the middle, this excellent offering on the rise of the drug trade and its impact on the country’s native people is otherwise well-executed on all fronts. With fine performances, beautiful cinematography and a nuanced though sometimes-rote script, “Birds of Passage” succeeds in telling a familiar story in an unfamiliar setting. This title, from the creators of the Oscar-nominated feature “Embrace of the Serpent” (2015), is time very well spent. The film, which has primarily been playing the festival circuit, is currently in limited release at theaters specializing in foreign, independent and arthouse pictures.

The search for paradise is something we crave, but sometimes we’re unaware we’ve already attained it. It’s only when it starts to slip away that we begin to appreciate what we’ve lost. That’s a tragedy, to be sure. But, if we take the time to consider what we’re creating – and how our tampering might be causing the grave disappearance of what we’ve so carefully sought to cultivate – we may be able to forestall such a tragic loss. Doing so may enable the birds of passage to pass on by rather than bring about a passing we’d rather not experience.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Getting What We Really Want

 

Much of our life is spent just trying to figure out how it all works. This leaves us little time to devote to attaining what we really hope for out of it. And, even then, we may not get it right through many attempts at doing so. But, at some point, we just might hit upon the right formula, one that gives us the happiness and contentment we seek. Such an odyssey is the stuff of one woman’s pursuit to find a life that suits her as detailed in the offbeat new Cuban comedy, “The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia” (“El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García”) (web site, trailer).

Former school teacher Celeste Garcia (María Isabel Díaz) has led an often-difficult life, but the single, sixty-something retiree is now hoping her golden years in Havana will turn out better. She spends much of her time in the company of her Russian neighbor and volunteers as a docent at the local planetarium. Life’s admittedly far from perfect, but the spry senior enjoys a reasonably comfortable, albeit rather routine, existence, at least by present-day Cuban standards. But, while at home late one night, matters take a rather drastic and unexpected turn.

In the middle of a sound sleep, Celeste is awoken by an exceptionally bright light and strange sounds coming from her neighbor’s apartment. Celeste is mystified by these unusual happenings, so she decides to investigate. Upon entering the adjacent unit, however, she gets quite an eyeful; she finds herself in the company of several odd-looking individuals, beings who are unfamiliar and certainly not immediately recognizable as human. She doesn’t quite know what to make of this, but she doesn’t hang around to find out, quickly returning to her apartment and trying to ignore what she just witnessed.

The next day, she finds her apartment building crawling with authorities. She also learns that her neighbor is gone. But, rather than make waves, she essentially puts her head down and blinders on in an attempt to pay no attention to what’s going on. Before long, though, the truth of what’s happening is revealed through official TV news reports. It seems that Cuba has long been home to alien representatives from the planet Gryok, and the visitors now want to establish an exchange program with their earthly hosts, graciously extending an invitation to journey to their home world. And, with that revelation, Celeste strongly suspects her neighbor probably wasn’t Russian after all.

Former school teacher Celeste Garcia (María Isabel Díaz) hopes that an invitation by extraterrestrials to visit their home world will bring happiness to her lonely and unfulfilled life in the offbeat comedy, “The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia” (“El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García”). Photo courtesy of The Match Factory.

Demand for the exchange program is heavy, so the government establishes a lottery program to select its contingent of qualified applicants. Celeste’s friends and family encourage her to apply, believing that it would provide the lonely and unattached retiree with a fresh start, especially since it’s an opportunity that would feed her interest in astronomy. But Celeste says she has no desire to go, that she’s perfectly content to remain earthbound.

Despite her lack of interest in the exchange program, Celeste is nevertheless curious to find out what actually happened to her neighbor, so she decides to visit the office of the government agency overseeing the lottery to see if it has any information about her vanished friend’s whereabouts. While there, Celeste learns that her alleged Russian acquaintance had indeed been masquerading as a human for years, but that revelation pales in comparison to an even bigger surprise: It seems Celeste’s neighbor recommended her for the exchange program, making a reserved slot available to her with no need to go through the uncertainty of the lottery process.

So why did Celeste’s neighbor accord her such special treatment? Having been a teacher, Celeste is considered a superior being (for a human at least) and is looked upon as the kind of enlightened, uplifting individual that Gryokians (like her neighbor) believe make her an ideal candidate for inter-species exchange. The off-worlders are convinced they can learn as much from her as she can from them.

As word of the exchange program spreads, Cuba’s would-be space travelers grow more curious about the planet they hope to visit. Gryok, it seems, is quite an intriguing place – very earth-like in many ways but sufficiently different in others. For example, the distant world is home to animals not unlike those found on terra firma, but with some significant distinctions. Gryok’s chickens, for instance, are 20 feet tall (imagine the size of the eggs).

Having essentially been given a free pass to make the trip, Celeste is welcome to go if she wishes. And, given the number of lottery applicants, she’s thought of as quite the lucky soul. As she learns more about the faraway planet, her interest is piqued, fueled by the encouragement of her sister, Luisa (Beatriz Viña), and her son, Pedrito (Roberto Espinosa), who note how many others wish they were in her shoes. So, after some additional thought, Celeste comes to recognize that there’s really nothing holding her here, a realization that prompts her to accept the offer to journey into the cosmos.

To prepare for the trip, Celeste and the lucky lottery winners are sent to a special training camp housed in a cramped, abandoned, run-down school in the Cuban countryside. Along the way, Celeste meets an interesting array of fellow travelers, including a flamboyant retired musician, Hector (Néstor Jiménez), a feisty, mouthy middle-aged woman, Perlita (Yerlín Pérez), and an expectant young mother, Mirta (Tamara Castellanos). She also runs into a familiar face, Augusto (Omar Franco), her neighborhood butcher, a gentlemanly senior who, without fail, inconspicuously takes care of his favorite customer while quietly swooning for her from afar. And, to make sure everyone learns their preparatory lessons, the aspiring travelers are placed under the supervision of a despotic government apparatchik, Zobeida (Veronica Diaz), a civil servant on steroids who approaches her duties with the efficient, impersonal, perfunctory attitude of a drill sergeant.

As Celeste goes through her training, however, she begins to discover that this supposedly coveted opportunity may not be everything it’s cracked up to be. In addition to Zobeida’s routine bullying, incessant barking and relentless criticisms, the bureaucracy of getting processed, and a variety of other issues, Celeste grows increasingly disillusioned. The once-hopeful prospect for a new beginning starts serving up the same kind of disappointment and frustration that has characterized much of her life.

What’s more, not everything is above board, either. Wannabe travelers who haven’t qualified for the trip are camped out on the periphery of the training facility, looking for ways to scam themselves into a ticket. Such is the case with a young couple, Yunier (Reinier Díaz) and Malu (Andrea Doimeadios), who are on the run from the law for a crime of passion they committed, hopeful that the Gryokians haven’t yet established any extradition arrangements with their earthly colleagues. There’s a problem, though; while Yunier has been approved for the journey, Malu has not and is desperately looking for a way to get on board. They’ll do just about anything to get what they want, too, including taking advantage of the good graces of legitimate travelers – like Celeste.

Former school teacher Celeste Garcia (María Isabel Díaz, second from right) discusses her hopes for a new life on an alien planet to which she’s been invited with fellow travelers Hector (Néstor Jiménez, second from left), Perlita (Yerlín Pérez, right) and Mirta (Tamara Castellanos, left) in the offbeat new Cuban comedy, “The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia” (“El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García”). Photo courtesy of The Match Factory.

With the time of the rendezvous with the mother ship fast approaching, circumstances grow increasingly tense. So how will everything shake out? That remains to be seen as the confluence of the film’s various story threads come together to reveal an outcome that surprises everyone – both on and off the screen. A curious mix of heartache, contentment and unforeseen affiliations will leave everyone – even the aliens – scratching their heads at how things turn out. But, if an odyssey like this is genuinely meant to be a trek into the unknown, Celeste Garcia’s extraordinary journey truly lives up to every bit of its billing.

Creating the life we want for ourselves is, obviously, up to us. But many find that they fail at this, and they’re usually not sure why. In large part, though, it usually comes down to either not really knowing what we want or allowing ourselves to be unduly imprinted with the influences of others. Such impacts serve to shape what we get – and what it means to get it right.

From this, it’s easy to see that, if we don’t have a good handle on this, we don’t have a good handle on the life we experience. Such is the case with Celeste; as dear and sweet as she is, she’s also something of a push-over, letting others around her determine what she should want rather than allowing herself to decide those matters for herself. But, when she discovers that what others want or recommend isn’t necessarily what she wants, she invariably runs into trouble. That’s something that has plagued her much of her life, and it’s reared its head once again when it comes to making a decision about whether to accept the Gryokians’ invitation (and hence the issues she experiences in the training camp).

To a certain extent, that’s not to be unexpected in a society, like Cuba, where officials make the decisions for all of its citizenry. Indeed, is it realistic to believe that individuals can learn to think for themselves when they’re constantly being told by authorities what they’re supposed to think? Such circumstances would appear to speak volumes for why Celeste finds herself in the situation that she’s in (and probably always has been).

In that regard, then, this film is as much a commentary on the state of Cuban politics and society as it is about the life of a woman seeking to find her way in the world (or on another planet). Those who quietly and compliantly always follow the rules, like Celeste, may not get into trouble, but they may also often find themselves less than satisfied with the results. Meanwhile, those who are willing to pursue what they actually want, like Yunier and Malu, frequently find that they must break the rules to reach their objectives, a potentially perilous course but one that at least allows them to think for themselves. Thus, in its own way, this picture quietly examines the roles of the group and the individual in society and how those influences factor into the manifestation of personal happiness and collective fulfillment (or lack thereof).

In the end, this is all a question of figuring out what we truly want for ourselves and then following through on it, first with our belief formation and then with the actions we take based on them. The “obvious” choices may be fine for some but not for others, and, if we truly want what we believe is best for ourselves, we must have the personal courage to stick to our guns. To do otherwise may place us in unsuitable circumstances, and there’s certainly nothing extraordinary about that.

This fun, delightful yet thought-provoking little comedy fills much bigger shoes than what one might think at first glance. This quirky but insightful offering features a host of colorful characters, offbeat incidents, absurdist humor and inventive sight gags, with ample symbolic sociopolitical commentary thrown in for good measure. There’s more going on than meets the eye in director Arturo Infante’s debut feature, so pay close attention, and don’t be quick to dismiss it as throwaway fluff.

Unfortunately, finding “Celeste Garcia” may take some doing, at least at the moment. This Cuban-German co-production has primarily been playing the film festival circuit, such as at the Chicago International Film Festival, where I first saw it. Check the picture’s web site or your local film festival’s web site for screenings.

An exceptional life is something most all of us seek, yet it often seems to elude us for reasons that are generally equally eluding. But that’s not to say it’s unattainable. Being truthful with ourselves about what we want and taking steps to achieve them are essential to see it realized. That can be quite an extraordinary journey in itself as we learn, usually through trial and tribulation, what it takes to reach that destination – no matter how far away or close it may be. 

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2018-19, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.