At the start of On the Roof (El Techo), a flock of pigeons soars through the skies of Havana, in symbolic contrast with the lives of the people on the roof where their coops are housed.
The plot may not seem exactly gripping at first, and Cuban director Patricia Ramos humorously acknowledges this in some shots—several series of still images in which all the protagonists do is change position a few times in perhaps several hours.
She’s set herself a challenge here: how to hold an audience’s attention with a story about three young people who spend a hot, uneventful summer on top of their crumbling apartment building in Havana. All they do is daydream, waiting for life to begin. It’s another world up there, the flat, confined, featureless roofscapes very different from the panoramic views of the real city and the sea beyond and below them. How do they move from one to the other? With no resources and no opportunities, how do they get a start?
The unlikely answer seems to be: open a pizzeria on the roof—but even then, its bustling, successful launch, with the young entrepreneurs lowering pizzas in baskets to their neighbours, is misleading.
But as is clear from the beginning, this isn’t an action movie, but a gentle, sometimes romantic comedy. The three protagonists at first seem like unambitious idlers. But it transpires that they’ve all been betrayed by the parental figures in their lives, and must find their own way; no wonder at first they’re drifting and uncertain how to find purpose in their lives.