Unfortunately, it’s still a rare thing to see female-centered science fiction films today. Rarer still to see one with an older female protagonist – and rarest of all, a sci-fi film from Cuba. It’s a cinematic niche writer-director Arturo Infante fills with much sensitivity and a clear love for his subject in his debut feature The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste García (El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García).
Veteran actress Maria Isabel Díaz plays Celeste García, a former school-teacher and current guide at the local planetarium, whose life is far from extraordinary – until the disappearance of her neighbour suspiciously coincides with the national announcement that aliens from planet Gryok have lived disguised among humans for several years. They are eager to further the cultural exchange between the two races, and will accept a delegation of Cubans in return. Celeste soon finds out that a cryptic piece of paper slid under her door is actually a personal invitation to visit the faraway planet, and joins a group of volunteers who are just as eager to discover this other world. In preparation for space travel, they are sent to an abandoned school building outside the city, newly turned into a training center.
Infante builds subtle tension with the marked absence of any visible aliens. When the spaceship eventually does appear – the understated special effects fitting in rather well with the scrappy set design – Celeste is prevented by a series of unfortunate events from leaving Earth onboard the vessel. Back home, however, she slowly begins to realize that her life may still have been changed for the better.
Celeste García is a truly original and affectionately humorous take on the sci-fi genre. Instead of focusing on the actual space travel, the film foregrounds the very human emotions of those desperate to escape their mundane existence.
CAST: Maria Isabel Díaz, Omar Franco, Néstor Jiménez
DIRECTOR: Arturo Infante
WRITER: Arturo Infante
SYNOPSIS: Celeste García, a 60-year-old former schoolteacher and current guide at the Havana Planetarium, is looking to change her life. When a group of aliens land in Cuba and offer Earthlings a chance to visit their planet, Celeste signs up for the journey, hoping for a better, more fulfilling life.