Atightly scripted, hard-hitting drama with a soul, Ciro Duran’s “Ship of Dreams” is a tough, tender, claustrophobic tale of six Latino castaways on a boat bound for New York and the American Dream. Fashioning complex intensity from limited materials, pic is clearly not built for the rough, wide seas of mainstream auds. But its winningly portrayed idealism, strong perfs and raw energy have already gained warm welcomes at festival ports.
Dressed in drag amongst a gang of girls, the nervous, edgy Indian (Frank Spano) and his black friend Euripides (Oscar Borda) manage to board the ironically named Buenaventura. Once they are in the hold and hidden behind cases of sherry, they whip off their disguises and meet Angela (Lourdes Elizarraras), who has a husband in jail in New York and has agreed to have sex with a sailor during the journey to ensure her safety, and short-haired, gutsy Carmen (Gladys Ibarra). Later, they’re joined by political dreamer and poet Carlos (Luis Felipe Tovar) and the foul-mouthed, knife-wielding Tough Guy (a brooding, explosive perf from Ramiro Meneses). We thus have a cross-section of system-smashing youth.
With rare exceptions, pic is shot in the ship’s hold, and Duran effectively keeps the tension on the boil as the pasts of the various characters are revealed, as well as the fact that the girls are smuggling drugs. When the Indian goes up on deck and injures himself, the central dramatic issue emerges: Do the others go for help and risk the end of their dream, or do they take a chance that he won’t die? Euripides wants to help the Indian and is tied up and gagged for his pains. Tough Guy — who is also, apparently, racist — does not , and generously offers to kill the Indian to put an end to their worries. A relationship develops between Carlos and Carmen, and through them the film explores further issues of solidarity.
Only excellent perfs could maintain this without soft spots starting to show, particularly as the movie is notably short on interesting visuals. But the intensity of the acting and an excellent script, which keeps a careful eye on the social circumstances that made the charmless characters what they are, manage to make the audience care.