The Present as Past

in 36th Panorama of European Cinema, Athens

by Aspasia Likourgioty

An extrapolation of the evocative anthology film Oceans Are the Real Continents, an Italian-Cuban production and director Tommaso Santambrogio’s first feature-length work. Aspasia Likourgioti looks further at the film’s intertextual reference points, and suggests other choice influences too.     

Italian director Tommaso Santambrogio’s Oceans Are the Real Continents (Los océanos son los verdaderos continentes) is his first avant-garde fiction film following well-received short films and Taxibol, his 50-minute short feature. In the oxymoronic shape of “modern” Cuba, in the background of a generic academic frame that searches for meaning in the big picture, three generations and three fiction stories are intertwined: A young artist couple with political and aesthetic concerns wounded by “her” request to live in a place with more opportunity; a grandmother reading the letters of “he” who left in 1980 to fight in Angola; and two young best friends who dream of “playing ball” for the New York Yankees; are the triple tales that leave the wound of immigration timelessly and perpetually open.

The picture froze in Cuba in 1959 as time stopped abruptly after the revolution. Its passage through the buildings and objects ceased to be visible, so that its contemporary photographic capture has something timeless or magically surreal, and here also poetic. By also making constant intertextual and aptly annotated references to the historical political drama film I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) that Mikhail Kalatozov directed in 1964, only a few years after the revolution, Tommaso Santambrogio manages to seamlessly take us on a journey to the “land of never”, and also to see the present as past.

Beyond the timeless political demands for justice and freedom that govern the different generations, but also the key issue of immigration that changes in causes but not consequences, the director sees today’s children through the lens of another era, referring to the images of Accatone (Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961) and thus giving us an older political view of the present through his cinematic aesthetic. For example, the young artists also reminds us of Philippe Garrel’s The Usual Lovers (2005), or the pornographer’s son in Bertrand Bonello’s The Pornographer (2001), i.e. contemporary critical references to May 1968 and Nouvelle Vague that aim to bring back the political signatures of other eras to the aesthetics of personal relationships today.

Oceans Are the Real Continents has had eight nominations and one win at festivals following Nomination for the Giornate degli Autori Award at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. At the Athens Panorama of European Cinema 2023, it would win the Union of Film Critics of Greece Award for Best Film.  

Aspasia Likourgioty
Edited by Steven Yates