CANNES – A 2017 Cinéfondation First Jury Prize winner, Costa Rica’s Valentina Maurel returned to the Cannes Festival with a new short, the Critics’ Week entry “Lucía en el limbo,” as she prepares her first feature, “El jardin en llamas” (The Garden on Fire).

Given that debut features of top Cinéfondation winners are offered a slot in Official Selection , “Garden” could well be Cannes-bound.

Produced by Marcelo Quesada and Karina Avellán at Costa Rica’s Pacifica Grey, Grégoire Debaily at France’s Geko Films and Benoit Roland at Belgium’s Wrong Men, “Lucía en el limbo” turns on a 16-year-old girl struggling to understand what is expected of her. She wants to lose two two things at all costs: Her lice and her virginity. The later she regards as a kind of initiatory rite inducting her into adulthood. But desire proves far more complex, and disorienting. Variety talked to Maurel about her shorts, past and present, and upcoming first feature:

What kind of cinema are you interested in making?

Cinema that is powerfully anchored in characters. I like dysfunctional characters who are in conflict with their body and desires: they have lice, they smell bad, they have erections at inconvenient moments and in the middle of all that, they try to fit in with social conventions that elude them. It’s an intimate cinema, with maybe a little stark insight into the relationships between men and women, young people and adults.

What references do you feel have been key for you?

I like very different types of films. I’d start by mentioning Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, and Catherine Breillat. When I felt the need to tackle adolescence, I looked to Todd Solondz and Hal Hartley movies which have a weird dark humor that I wish I had more of. It can save you from taking yourself too seriously.

What’s the status of your feature debut, “The Garden on Fire”?

I’m still writing it.So it’s a bit like fresh painting. I’m letting it rest. I don’t dare to touch it too much just now. I don’t know yet what the visual style will be. In terms of tone I think it will be a mix between my two previous shorts “Paul is Here” and “Lucía en el Limbo,” a raw look once more at relationships between teens and adults, and the discovery of sex. I’ll shoot again in Costa Rica.

Is there a production company attached?

Yes, it will be produced by the same producers behind “Lucía en el limbo,” Geko, Pacifica Grey and Wrong Men. What’s important for me is to have these three countries producing, since I’m Costa Rican and also French, but lived many years in Belgium. So it seems logical for me to use this structure.

What are the main challenges to make a movie in Costa Rica?

The first challenge is economic. Talent does exist, But since we don’t yet have a strong industry, we have to practice a highly interesting creative flexibility. But it’s difficult tap financing. There’s no cinema law regulating our work or funds or co-production relationships with other countries. In addition, being in a small market makes it difficult for films to reach the public. The paradox is that although Costa Rica has more and more talented filmmakers (this year there are two Costa Rican films in Critics’ Week), the country lags behind in Central American where other countries like Honduras have passed film laws.

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Valentina Maurel