A heartbreaking collision of joyous, reckless youth, abject despair and cosmic disharmony, “Ticket to Paradise,” is set in Cuba, circa 1993, when the fall of Soviet Union led to dire conditions and the kind of desperation helmer Gerardo Chijona Valdes uses to make memorable, honest and unforgettable drama. Content is harsh, and several of Chijona Valdes’ moves are suspect, but the virtues of his storytelling and its Cuban locales should make the film a natural for U.S. speciality houses.
Against a background of grinding poverty and dessicated architecture, “Ticket to Paradise” introduces Eunice (the marvelous Miriel Cejas), who has stolen a wallet at school, evidently so she can flee her father’s house: His wife long dead, Armando (Luis Alberto Garcia) has started having sex with Eunice, and is unlikely to stop; a later scene, in which her sister Ruth (Beatriz Vina) reflexively recoils from her father’s touch, speaks volumes about the family in a single, understated gesture. Finally, Eunice makes a break for it, hopping several buses cars and trucks — anyone with gasoline is suddenly an entrepreneur in Cuba — and meets the people who will change her life.
Alejandro, Lidia and Fito (Hector Medina, Dunia Matos, Fabian Mora, respectively) are “freakies,” street kids who steal, deal drugs and writhe to metal music, having no support system, no chance for employment and no sense of a future. Eunice is immediately attracted to Ale and the four soon become a tight clique, using whatever they can sell — in one absolutely riveting scene, Lidia and Eunice hand their underwear over to a pervert, who agrees to give them a ride to Havana. Eunice, whom the others call “hick,” careens between the feeling she’s in hell, and the kind of camaraderie she’s never known before.
Based on the Cuban realities of the time, the screenplay by Chijona Valdes, Francisco Garcia Gonzalez and Maykel Rodriguez Ponjuan takes auds on a trip into ultimate Cuban nihilism: Milena (Ariadna Munoz), Alejandro’s ex, appears one night, having left the AIDS facility where she lives — it’s the only kind of facility in Cuba where someone like her can get government food, clothing and shelter — and the others want in. Eunice flees, but the other three devise a way to make sure they all can live indoors.
“Ticket to Paradise” is a shocker, but despite the severity of its narrative, it always maintains a sense of honesty and, as might be expected, dread. It’s not an overtly political film, but the implied critique embodied in Eunice and her friends is potent and bitter.
Production values are mixed. The excellent work of d.p. Raul Perez Ureta and editor Miriam Talavera is undercut by second-rate processing.