Cuban cinema, my first forages …….

I am so lucky to have access to a wonderful film library, reputedly one of the best in Latin America.  My husband is the director of one of the most unique film schools in the world and this has some benefits!  Luciano who heads up the library is a wise man of Latin cinema, who gives me tips and opinions along with the lovely chatty women who work there and know the films and the gossip.

My progress through the library is slow but sure.  Having 3 children and quite an active social life means that I cannot race.  I began by educating myself with some Cuban classics and it was a good way of learning a few of the important names in Cuban cinema.  I don’t have the internet power or ability to put links to all these films but you all do so ……….

Memorias de Subdesarollo directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea is set in the wake of the Bay of Pigs incident.  Sergio is a bourgeois aspiring writer who decides to stay in Cuba even though his wife and many friends have fled to Miami. Sergio reflects in his voiceovers on the changes happening in Cuba from the revolution to the missile crisis.  He feels alone in a brave new world and continues chasing beautiful women all over Havana.  The cool style of the film for me was really reminiscent of the nouvelle vague films of the 60s that I watched in Paris 20 years ago.  Jean Luc-Godard being my favourite.  The way the two main characters meet and the farcical relationship that ensues reminded me a little of A Bout de Souffle (Breathless).  But there are many things that are quintessentially Cuban and very atmospheric.  As a socially historical document it is well worth a watch.

I followed this with Lucia, a Cuban classic but without subtitles and Rafa I could not do justice to this great film.  I need to watch it again in a year or so and with a Cuban.  The images of the nuns being raped in the early part of the film, took my breath away.  Just be warned.  Its hard hitting stuff!

Solas created one of the most important works in the nascent feminist cinema of the period.  Told in three segments, set in 1895, 1932, and in the heady years just after the Revolution,Lucia is an epic of Cuban history. The three Lucias are literally, different women, each of their stories combining into a larger narrative of slow, painful progress for Cuba, less as a nation than as a society. The three Lucias each offer different visions of class; Solas deftly links concern with economic materialism to character growth and change, in the process transforming that often very bourgeois cinematic genre, the family melodrama, into a platform for social investigation.

I was lucky enough to meet one of the Lucia’s in my early days in Havana, Eslinda Nuñez.  I did not realise I was chatting with a Cuban icon on a night out at the Mexican embassy, I was just impressed by a beautiful and elegant woman, so easy to talk to and unpretentious.  I hope to meet her again soon.

De Cierta Manera (One way or Another) is the only feature film of the late great Sara Gomez.  It is set in the residential district of Miraflores built by the Revolution for the inhabitants of the shantytown on the outskirts of Havana known as Las Yaguas.  What I loved about this film was how the director mixed real documentary footage with actors and fiction.  This authentic technique was way before its time and a brilliant social document.  The film attempts to reveal the new reality that the Revolution has placed within the reach of a previously marginalized sector of the Cuban population.  The director mixes shots of the demolition of dilapidated tenements with the building of new houses and apartment blocks.

A metaphor for replacing an old socio-economic order with a new value system and the aspirations of a new society in construction.  Through the three protagonists she explores the evolution within the social environment looking at the old capitalist hangovers of individualism, false values and friendships and chauvinism.

I was chatting away with a friend, who has been living in Cuba nearly 12 years, at my sons rugby match a few weeks ago and he mentioned a film that was made famous as it was banned by Fidel in the 60s and prompted Fidel’s famous line: Within the revolution everything; against the revolution, nothing.  A strange line, and I am still trying to grasp exactly what he meant other than: stay faithful to the Revolution but that seems a bit obvious and nothing to do with the subject matter of this film.  Anyway the copy of the film that I got from the film school opened with this line.  PM is only 14 minutes long; Rafa and I watched it together and loved it.  It captures beautifully in black and white, fly on the wall photography, one night out in Havana over 50 years ago.  And well, some things just don’t change.  The music, the drunks, the food vendors, the prostitutes, the bars, the musicians, the lovers.  It was screened on Cuban TV at the time but never made it to cinema.

The makers of PM, Orlando Jiménez Leal and Sabá Cabrera Infante (brother of writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante) later went into exile and the film became, bizarrely, the most controversial and invisible film in the history of Cuban cinema.  Recently it was screened without any comment or fuss in a Cuban cinema and I am told that you can find it on YouTube in two parts.

I got another Cuban classic but thinking more of my boys who have had a poster on their wall since pretty much Paulo was born:  Vampiros en la Habana.  For anyone who doesn’t know, Cuban film posters are wonderful.  They have their own inimitable style and make great art.  A perfect present from Havana where there is not always too many nice things to buy as gifts unless you are in the know and can get away from the people hawking tired cliché Cuban rubbish and cigars.

Vampiros en Habana is an animation classic but without subtitles and a very fast storyline I was struggling and left it to my bilingual sons, who enjoyed it after feeling initially uncomfortable that it wasn’t a cartoon that resembled Disney or Pixar.  Other great Cuban films for children include Cannes prize winner Viva Cuba by our friend Cremata and the recently successful Habanastation.

After this I decided to have a break from Cuban films as I had been walking down the corridor at the film school and looking at all the posters of the graduates.  I had already seen 2 or 3 but couldn’t wait to get started on the others.  So read the next post to find out more ……..


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