In the tradition of minimalist neo-realism comes this unlikely contender from Costa Rica: Alexandra Latishev Salazar’s Medea, a film that eschews exposition and just throws you in the middle of its fiercely independent protagonist’s life, no context, no three act structure, just a straight-up fly-on-the wall front row seat into this young woman’s life.

And that woman is Mariá José, a young Costa Rican college student, not that you would ever guess it was Costa Rica if you didn’t notice a couple of subtle hints. It doesn’t matter- she could be anyone, anywhere in this world, really. This is a film about a specific individual, not a film about culture or political subtexts. We see Mariá José stumble through her life like a ghost or zombie, barely uttering a complete sentence throughout the entire film: clubbing, school, rugby, more clubs, more rugby, repeat. Somewhere in there she gets herself a boyfriend, sort of, and somewhere in there, we assume, she loses him. She is more animal instinct than thoughtful adult, guarding a secret she never bothers to explain, justify, or even really reconcile with. She just does.

This is what makes Medea such a refreshing treat- Salazar gives us very little to work with, and yet somehow manages to churn out a character that’s compelling nonetheless. We’re given no reason to sympathize with her, but we do anyway. She’s not exactly a moral character, but this film isn’t about morality. It’s not about much, really, in the traditional sense; it’s about staying true and honest to your subject, giving them their due, letting them develop in their own way. The 4:3 framing is claustrophobic, never allowing you to see much beyond Mariá José’s own, limited world, because you don’t need to. It’s really all about her.

Somehow, despite being denied all the trimmings that usually accompany a movie, you care about her anyway. In a roundabout way, the film is about the value- whether high or low- of human life. Mariá José doesn’t value hers very much, or so it seems- she spends the entire film feeling uncomfortable in her own skin, unsure of what she wants beyond the right now. Talk about being in the moment; Salazar knows how to filter out the unnecessary and feed you the bare essentials you didn’t even realize you needed.

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