Discovered with a smoking gun and all three of her dead parents, Sugar has a very short window to convince the authorities she didn’t do it.
Set amidst a small Cuban village, a decades-old love triangle and Revolution-era Cuba, Mantis Nest is a lot less about a murder than it’s opening suggests.
A mystery that might typically find itself on an instalment of Law and Order soon giving way to very extended flashback sequences, these portions quickly take over as the film’s raison d’etre. Recalling the stages of Elena’s romance with Emilio and Tomas and their own fraught roles in the nation’s social upheaval, Mantis Nest is first and foremost very romantic.
The core story not so significantly lending itself to classically romantic ideations, the imagery resplendent throughout overwhelmingly accomplishes this end. Whether it be characters leaping in a lake, lounging by the seaside or otherwise on a patio overlooking this most significant era in Cuban history, the quieter, contemplative moments where the film allows itself to rest on eye-popping stills are among Mantis Nest’s best.
Contrasting with the more grounded sequences surrounding the characters’ later deaths, the black and white flashbacks adopt a heightened, at times surrealist approach to proceedings altogether in terms of staging, dialogue and importantly blocking. While a few scenes in isolation could too have proffered the idealised, dreamlike quality evidently intended by the approach, indeed a tone difficult to sustain; the proliferation of sequences operating at this register throughout begin to clash somewhat with the soon increasingly interspersed and shorter, bleaker recalls to the characters’ futures.
Moreover drawing attention to the disparity through the flashbacks’ not infrequent, heavy use of symbolism-driven dialogue to convey the leads’ metaphorical resonance within the broader events of early 1960’s Cuba, the very deliberate choice to position Tomas and Emilio within different socio-economic spheres will likewise be apparent.
Visually sumptuous and bearing a fairly strong hook to keep audiences intrigued, Mantis Nest’s imagery will no doubt linger in the mind.
Mantis Nest screens as part of the Sydney Latin American Film Festival on Saturday September 9 at 9PM at Dendy Opera Quays and Saturday September 21 at 8PM at Casula Powerhouse