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ROTTERDAM 2015 Competition

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The Project of the Century: A heavyweight piece of South American new wave

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- Life after communism in Cuba is explored through a study of the country's first-ever nuclear power plant, which was never brought to completion

The Project of the Century: A heavyweight piece of South American new wave

Carlos M Quintela's The Project of the Century [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
refers to what was once Cuba's "greatest" social enterprise: the building of the country's first-ever nuclear power plant, named the Electro-Nuclear City because an entire city was constructed (on a communist scale) around it. Fast-forward to 2012, and we find the giant, dome-like structure in an abandoned state of incompletion. The still very real Electro-Nuclear City therefore sits in inertia, and there we find Otto, Leo and Rafael - three generations of the same family. 

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Rather brilliantly, the epically cantankerous grandfather, Otto, wonders partway through what happened to all of the local nuclear TV station's footage. Well, it seems that it fell into Quintela's hands. The director borrows his title from one of the station's features, and intersperses its footage throughout. These filmic cuttings then soberingly present what Cuba's dreams once were, contrasted with the hollowed husks they are today.

Quintela's updated takes are also shot in the most crystalline black and white, and by shooting in this way, he has smartly responded to several current trends. He has positioned his feature alongside fellow new boy Alonso Ruizpalacios' black-and-white Mexican debut, Güeros. Together, they seem like a darkly sardonic new wave intent on making you pay attention to their serious themes and dazzling chiaroscuro. 

The Project of the Century sits alongside stylised European films like Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile
]
 or Martti Helde's In the Crosswind [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Martti Helde
interview: Martti Helde
film profile
]
, too. These films used black and white to conceptually express communism's oppressiveness, and Quintela ingeniously reworks this. He applies the style to life after communism (from the 1980s to the modern day), brilliantly highlighting the continued stasis of Electro-Nuclear City. He then starkly sets this against colour shots, like the markedly HD footage from the (rampantly capitalistic) London 2012 Olympics, where Electro-Nuclear City's very own Robeisy Ramírez won at boxing. 

Thus Quintela has merged form with theme skilfully. The characters refer to their city as a ghost town, a place logically lost in a black-and-white limbo. The film also cuts between the narrative of the three men and that of a goldfish, making the parallels clear: both fish and man seem trapped in a fish tank that they must constantly struggle to reinvigorate. Equally, the film has a constant background throbbing, conveying the almost radioactive frustration that emanates from the uncompleted behemoth on the horizon. 

And this feature's scenes are often equally incomplete or vacuous - but that's the whole point. Cuba once planned to build 20 power stations, so the film's failure to progress entirely critiques the country's falling at the first hurdle. And what makes this truly great is the South American flippancy with which Quintela discusses his subject. An excellent example would be a scene where tensions between the three men come to a head: they meet in their hallway - each primed with lazy erections, like the three musketeers. It's exquisitely funny.

The Project of the Century is co-produced by German production outfit Raspberry & Cream, is sold by m-appeal and deserves to be distributed widely.

See also

Sarajevo Report
Locarno Report
DPC
 

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