The term “coming of age” is frequently used in reference to movies that tell stories of children facing events signifying the end of their childhood and, therefore, innocence. Although this type of film has been normalized by the Hollywood standard and international mainstream cinema at large, the term itself implies an awakening to an already established order of preset rules and a child’s impossibility to fight it.
The most shocking awakening is the genetic one. Indeed, it may be argued that the mainstream normalization of the coming of age film is a direct result of its general acceptance of the predominating “order of things” as normality and its avoidance of the representation of the body in the child’s process of sexualization. The fact that Ari Maniel Cruz’s Before the Rooster Crows avoids such normalization can be evinced from its title, referring to a specifically Puerto Rican expression signifying a young woman’s first period.
The teenage girl of the film is Carmin (Miranda Purcell), and the film is not only interested in the ways in which she experiences her coming of age but also in how her coming of age resonates in the world at large. Therefore, it becomes representative of the role of femininity in a predominantly patriarchal world. It also throws into question family values, something that we find a lot in horror and not enough in the coming of age drama.
Carmin (Miranda Purcell) is brought up by her grandmother, who represents the authoritarian figure which she projects all her feelings of rage into. At first, we see her experiencing another disappointment from her mother (Kisha Burgos, who also wrote the screenplay of Before the Rooster Crows, based on her own life experiences), who abandons as fast as she returned to see her, out of the blue. Shortly thereafter, her father returns home after several years in jail. She originally greets him with hostility, possibly fearing another disappointment. However, perhaps also as a result of the vortex of her sexual confusion, he becomes the central object of her sexual desires. The impossibility of the fulfillment of these sexual fantasies leads to her jealousy and possessiveness, which open up possibilities for what Robin Wood would call the “return of the repressed” in reference to horror films.
The woman, as represented in When the Rooster Crows, is not the cause of degeneration. Her father is not altogether innocent for potentially jeopardizing his idyllic family situation: he embarks on a risky affair with the wife of a belligerent neighbour. Again, the wheels are set in motion for the eruption of chaos and violence that is the product of the predominantly patriarchal society.
The level of maturity of the screenplay is quite remarkable. Though handheld, Santiago Benet’s camerawork is silky, smooth and warm. This once again represents the impossibility of fighting back predestination, shaped by genetic and political laws, especially when contrasted by Purcell’s noteworthy “kicking-and-screaming” magnetic performance. Before the Rooster Crows is a piece of naturalist storytelling; its descent into darker-than-average territories is fascinating and genuine; its detachment leaves room for ambiguity in our reception of the characters and the events that take place as a result of their actions. While not entirely devoid of excesses, such as the unnecessary moments in which we see Carmin’s own fantasies, Cruz’s film is a cohesive vision that is certainly among the best coming of age dramas of recent memory. – ★★★★
ANTES QUE CANTE EL GALLO || 2016, Puerto Rico || Drama || Directed by – Ari Maniel Cruz / Written by – Kisha Burgos / Produced by – Esteban Lima, Tristana Lobles / Cinematography – Santiago Benet / Edited by – Andrei Nemcik / Music by – Eduardo Cabra / Starring – Miranda Purcell, Cordelia Gonzalez, Jose Eugenio Hernandez, Kisha Burgos / Running time: 98 mins.