Esteban Ramirez’s lush Costa Rican ecological meller puts a new country on the cinematic map. In “Caribe,” unspoiled tropical beaches and jewel-toned forests teeming with indigenous flora and fauna make the case against an unscrupulous oil company seeking to drill offshore more eloquently than do the impassioned speeches delivered by script’s homegrown activists. But it is probably the imported charms of Cuban heartthrob Jorge Perugorria (“Strawberry and Chocolate”), Spanish actress Cuca Escribano and Mexican sex kitten Maya Zapata, enmeshed in a torrid sex triangle, that explain pic’s unprecedented local popularity and could fire up wider Hispanic markets.
Stately Abigail (Escribano) enjoys an idyllic sensual life with handsome soul mate/hubby Vincente (Perugorria) on their small banana plantation when Irene (Zapata), a beautiful young half-sister she never knew existed, shows up one day and the couple takes her in. The newly expanded family hits it off splendidly, splashing around in the ocean and exchanging stories of their parallel pasts.
Meanwhile, globalism, in the form of a huge international oil conglomerate flashing money and promises of employment to the natives, threatens the beauty and tranquility of the region — and, even worse, promises to play havoc with the local fishing and tourist economy. Vincente vigorously supports the grassroots resistance to this exploitation of the coastline.
But when globalism jeopardizes his own livelihood and his buyer can no longer afford to deal with smaller suppliers like him, he quickly sells out, only to ultimately waffle and go back on the deal.
At the same time, his relationship to his wife’s half-sister ceases to be platonic and the two are soon making passionate love all over the plantation. Abigail finds solace with a strange, silent fisherman (Roberto McLean) whose constant brooding look somehow encompasses the whole history of colonialism.
There seems to be little relationship between pic’s sexual and social plots, save that helmer Ramirez limns the sensual curves of the coastline and those of Zapata with equal fervor.
If one interprets Vincente’s desire to have it both ways politically and sexually in terms of class, though, the character becomes representative of the liberal bourgeoisie caught between impoverishment and exploitation, unable to sustain the old paternalistic balance of capital and labor.
Yet pic almost resists such a reading, mainly because of the sheer sexual power of Perugorria’s Vincente, who continues to read as quasi-heroic right up until pic’s final, sly feminist coda.
Tech credits are impressive, Mario Cardona’s seductive widescreen lensing ably accompanied by Walter Flores’ exotic score.