“When the Rooster Crows” director Arí Manuel Cruz inspires audience

Lawrence University hosted its sixth annual Latin American and Spanish Film Festival (LULASFF) from April 26-29 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. The festival showed eight films in total, all in Spanish with English subtitles, hailing from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Cuba and Chile. One of the film screenings on Friday, April 28 at 5 p.m., “Before the Rooster Crows,” included a Q&A session with its director, Arí Maniel Cruz, following the movie. A healthy crowd of Lawrentians and Appletonians attended the event, which turned out to be both fulfilling and inspiring.

“Before the Rooster Crows” (2016) centers around an adolescent girl named Carmín in mountainous, rural Puerto Rico. The film begins with a visit from Carmín’s mother, who, despite promising to take care of Carmín, ultimately ends up leaving her within a day, headed for the United States with her new boyfriend. Carmín continues to live with her grandmother, who has assumedly been taking care of her since birth and their contentious relationship is immediately made clear. The pair seems to hate each other; Carmín purposely does things to aggravate her grandmother throughout the entire film, including staying out late and putting the expenses of an extravagant shopping excursion at a nearby store on her grandmother’s tab. Carmín’s grandmother, on the other hand, does not appear to be very understanding of her granddaughter’s angst and seems to excuse too much, providing woefully inadequate parenting in several situations throughout the movie and particularly once Carmín’s father returns from prison.

Carmín’s father is a charming man of mystery whom Carmín, who turns 14 during the film, has not seen since she was two years old. Combine this with the fact that Carmín’s newly-released father does not know how to treat or parent her and an awkward and confusing relationship results. Though they get off to a false start, they warm up to each other with time and their interactions quickly edge toward uncomfortable closeness, underscoring the film with questions of incest without any definitive conclusion.

Over the course of the movie, Carmín essentially comes of age and must deal with the possibility of first love, the questioning of adult authority — especially within the context of religion — and the virtual loss of both of her parents, since her father gets arrested for murder shortly before the film ends. Little dialogue marks the film; instead, lots of long stares fill many of the shots and occasional sounds of authentic Puerto Rican instruments punctuate tense moments. Overall, “Before the Rooster Crows” is taut with both subtle and blunt action, making certain commonplace ordeals appear fraught with emotion and suspense, yet glossing over some other, more horrific elements. The film ends on a wryly hopeful note, with Carmín and her grandmother ultimately bonding over their experiences and Carmín making a cynical comment about wanting to see a miracle. The director explained afterwards that the audience is supposed to understand, after seeing the film, that a miracle did indeed occur because Carmín and her grandmother survived everything and still got to be together.

The Q&A with Director Arí Maniel Cruz following the movie shared many precious insights with the audience. For example, Cruz remarked that his wife—incidentally, the actress who played Carmín’s mother in the movie—shared the same story as Carmín up until the point where Carmín’s father returned from prison, an event which did not occur in Cruz’s wife’s life. “We create stories from the things that hurt us the most,” Cruz said. He also elaborated more upon the movie title, which turns out to be a Puerto Rican colloquialism that refers to a woman getting her first period — an event which happens to Carmín within the first bit of the film. Cruz also commented on the fact that we experience the film entirely from Carmín’s viewpoint: this is exhibited in every single scene in the movie, influencing what we consider to be “facts” and constructing possible biases. Additionally, Cruz responded to why he thought “Before the Rooster Crows”—which was the number one film in Puerto Rico for 11 weeks—was such a success: he thinks it has to do with the film’s enveloping and deeply personal story. “Particularity will give you universality,” Cruz stated, meaning that telling one’s honest, unique story will be what makes one successful because that is what others can relate to.

“Before the Rooster Crows” was just one example of the fine, critically-acclaimed films that were shown during the film festival at Lawrence this year. Hopefully next year’s festival will feature many more of these moving films and extraordinary director talks with accomplished individuals like Arí Maniel Cruz.