My first 3 films of many ………..
I began with one of the better-known directors/writers who is now pretty famous in Spain and Europe Benito Zambrano. We actually bumped into him on the dance floor in Guadalajara so I got to put a face to the name.
Havana Blues was the first one that caught my eye as the poster looked fun and I needed something a little lighter. I actually ended up shedding a tear at the end of the film but not before a wonderful romp through the lives of two musicians and their families and friends and music.
Benito was actually a student at EICTV during the special period, so he knew the hardest times in Cuba and I think he portrays them really well: from the poverty and frustration of no electricity, to families torn apart by economic desires. But even throughout the worst times, the Cubans still had pride and style. I think these two things have always kept them going.
The actors are all exceptional and the music a great introduction to some modern Cuban sounds. The story revolves around two main characters, musicians being seduced by Spanish producers into signing a contract which seems to include selling their Cuban souls, changing their Cuban lyrics and cancelling their first Cuban performance so they can be marketed in Spain as a new politically-repressed act.
The mulatto Ruy, considers this a betrayal to his country and his art, Tito just recognises the financial necessity and his desire to escape the trap. Throughout all this their families are dealing with breaks ups and heartaches. A boat full of illegal immigrants in the middle of the night leaving behind fathers and families hit me hard and just writing about it again brings tears to my eyes. Seeing the mother pull her daughter from the arms of Ruy wading out in the sea as the boats is leaving is about as tough as it gets. I had hard times in Guatemala when I wanted out of there so badly, but I stayed as I could never have done that to my children or my husband. Separating families is a constant theme here in Cuba, but not just Cuba. How many men leave poor Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico to work in minimum wage jobs in the US and never come come back to their families?
After that I moved swiftly on to Benito’s first film, his opera prima which was shot in Seville on a budget of around $750, 000. His script was selected by the Spanish Ministry of Culture for funding. In this film I see Benito going back to his Spanish roots. The pace is slow but never boring, the economy of language makes the script more powerful and allows for steady but beautiful characterisations. All the people in this film are incredibly believable and all of us have spent lonely times, especially in big anonymous cities even if it is something that is not cool to admit. In the words of Claire Norton-Smith
Solas is a brave film that’s able to address the broader political concerns of poverty, isolation and physical decline from within the concerns of ‘the family’. It stands as a work of immense maturity and warmth and delivers its message without triteness or sentimentality: “Defeat is not the enemy’s triumph,” as Maria’s aged neighbour declares, “Admitting the defeat is”.
I enjoyed Solas and watching the two films one after the other, I appreciated Benito’s ability to make two such different films describing two very different worlds but at the same time exploring humanity regardless of new world, old world differences. If you had watched those two films blind I doubt you would have guessed they were the same director.
Next stop …….
I met Tania Hermida at this years Havana film festival, I think I had met her previously at other festivals but never enough to get to know this bright, funny, kind film maker that even throughout the craziness of the festival and the parties, remembered me and brought me a lovely little gift when she came to my house. Sometimes those little thoughtful things touch you most. She also knows how to tell a good story! Ask her about her first personal encounter with the great Garcia Marquez. ………
I loved her first feature film Que tan lejos, (literally translated how really far ….so something like It’s a long way) which I have just noticed is available to buy on Amazon (so get online and buy it now in the name of supporting great independent film making). Her film could also have the title serendipity or madness just like this blog. It captures beautifully those journeys you make in your life without realizing you are at some kind of crossroad. Or maybe those journeys introduce a crossroad, who knows, just like when I travelled to Guatemala all those years ago. If I ever write my film script, I would love Tania to direct it!
Que tan lejos is a great road movie, a chick flick up there with Thelma and Louise, and a stunning photographical tribute to Ecuador. It tells a story of spontaneous friendships, broken hearts, dead grandmothers and the fun and unexpectedness of travel. You can see Ecuador through the eyes of the two female protagonists one from Madrid, Esperanza who innocently loves to explore new worlds with a fresh openness that you can’t help but like and the cynically self named Ecuadorian literature student, Tristeza who is tired of the tourist cliché of picturesque South America and can’t shake her feeling that she needs to escape to something else. Jesus is a peaceful easy-going lovable character who they meet as he is taking the ashes of his dearly departed grandmother back home. It is a film that flies past fast and all this with a big sense of humour. Buy it watch it and lend it to your friends and then book that flight to Ecuador.
This is just my beginning and I hope in the next few years I will get to watch many more films of the graduates. Poco a poco
PS: This week I saw the Iranian film that won best foreign film at the Oscars. Separation. Powerful stuff. Haven’t felt like that since I saw Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies.