I Have Electric Dreams: the danger of subtler forms of domestic violence

in 37th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Elaine Guerini

I Have Electric Dreams does not convey a typical or obvious case of a family torn apart by domestic violence. Costa Rican director Valentina Maurel proves too insightful to concoct an unequivocal aggressor, a move that would have made it easy for the audience to quickly judge and condemn the villain—and promptly forget the film.

With her first feature film, Maurel manages to show that the damage can be just as palpable, or even more so, when one is subjected to a subtle, silent, everyday sort of violence, one of those exchanges that can arise from games played between father and daughter. And precisely because there is a real complicity between the two of them, it becomes more complicated to detect this male violence, which is archaic, insidious, and systemic.

The daughter herself has difficulty recognizing it, since the violence is largely more psychological than physical. Despite their toxic bond, 16-year-old Eva (Daniela Marín Navarro) is crazy about her unpredictable father, Palomo (Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez), who is clearly her first romantic love.

After her parents’ divorce, Eva can’t bear to live peacefully with her mother, sister, and cat. The mother’s efforts to generate a healthier environment for her daughters, far from the emotional rollercoaster imposed by her husband, is of no use.

All Eva wants is to move in with her father, who is more immature than his teenage daughter. He is a poet who now lives with a friend and enjoys drug-addled parties. The girl has been so dazzled by her father’s freer way of life that she fails to realize the destructive nature of their relationship.

As if it were a joke, Palomo likes to squeeze Eva’s arm and ask, “Are you feeling pain?” Even though he implies that the idea is to teach his daughter to realize that pain exists only in the mind, this ostensible lesson gives an idea of the pernicious dynamic that the women in this family are forced to contend with. It is no coincidence that Eva’s little sister suffers from urinary incontinence.

And to make things even more confusing, Palomo often seems sincere in his love for his daughter, causing the audience to sometimes sympathize with him. Gutiérrez manages to imprint enough humanity upon Palomo, so there are moments when he seems aware and ashamed of the toxic masculinity he carries in his soul, not knowing how to deal with the endless circle of violence. Sometimes he even directs the aggression at himself.

There is no denying that the violent relationship on display here is permeated by love, which makes Eva’s life more fraught. Victims like Eva often cannot stop loving the person who hurts them so badly, which winds up prolonging their separation, even as the situation turns urgent.

And just as painful to watch are Eva’s choices, influenced by the only male figure she knows and loves, however dysfunctional her father may be. That explains the fact that the father’s roommate also plays an important role in Eva’s coming-of-age process, which Marín Navarro embodies beautifully, evoking all the poetry and pain that comes with it.

There is nothing conventional about Eva’s transition from being a child to an adult. There are no easy answers here and Eva quicky realizes it. That is precisely what sets her apart from many other teenage heroines who, usually after a traumatic event, already position themselves as if they were fully prepared for what comes next. The more Eva examines at the mess made by the adults around her, the more she realizes that no one is ever fully prepared—which does not necessarily diminish the beauty of life.

Elaine Guerini
Edited by José Teodoro