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  As a socially historical document it is well worth a watch.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 ……..


Telegram from Habana

I have so much to write about my new life that I have 20 blog posts in my head.  I really don’t know where to begin.

I am realising that my inability to write or get on line is more to do with the fact that I am on my own with 3 children trying to unpack and find things and find out where to buy the basics  …….. than the fact that I have slow dial up internet.

So this is a bit of an incoherent ramble, I promise I will try to organise my writing a little better in future posts.  Too much to say and not much time to get it all down.

My husband says I have blossomed in Cuba.  He says everything about me is more relaxed and happy and beautiful.  Viva Cuba! just for that mega compliment I say ….

A lot of handsome streetwise men arrived to bring our shipment of things last week so we are now fully installed.  I never thought a move in could be so much fun.  Lots of jokes and banter.  Rafa and I were exhausted but happy when we went to bed that night.  In our bed, with our sheets and our pillows, our towels, etc etc.

The new nanny failed to be the right one because she did absolutely nothing!!!!  In fact she was quite brilliant at doing nothing.  I began to feel as though I was working for her as I served her another lunch at the table and I ran around picking up toys, getting the boys to wash hands, Saskia wrapped around me!  Plan B Nanny is a little bit bling bling but is turbo charged and a lot more sparky.  I gave her a test run by inviting her to come round and clean my disgusting oven.  She spent 3 hours up to her knees and elbows in grease removing a one inch crusty layer, all of this with a big smile on her face.

The tiles in my downstairs loo at first glance look quite ordinary and bland but you can spend a long time finding faces and animals in the patterns.  It really is trippy and very clever.  I certainly have not been near any psychedelic drugs lately, maybe a little bit too much red wine, as I have been partying quite a lot with Rafa.  I showed the children one afternoon and they thought it was amazing and even Rafa had to admit he could see a lot of things!  It is quite addictive once you start to see things you can´t stop and every day I see something new.  I want to find out more about these trippy tiles.

The boys start school on Monday (in French) yippee!  Saskia has been enrolled in a local nursery which I went to visit last week.  They were a bit low on colours and toys but my main concern was that the directora, a woman, had a beard!  I kid you not, no 5 o’clock shadow or a bit of stubble it really was what could only be described as an established beard.  I know I should be open minded and not prejudiced etc etc. but a bit scary for me, never mind my 17 month old girl.  I was just relieved that neither of the boys, who accompanied me on the visit, made some really inappropriate comment.

Also this week 6 men arrived from the film school to help me sort out everything that needs to be updated in the house …..mosquito screens, checking all electricity points, painting the guest room, tuning the TV, sanding the doors so they shut properly.  Mania is the Film School representative in Habana, she is a sassy 48 year old who looks 10 years younger and is helping me out with anything and everything.  She arrived to help me order the men around.  I was very impressed!  Cuban men are famous machistas but watching this woman you would think the opposite.  I feel she may turn into a future friend.  She also told me that she loves to dance!

Rafa is absolutely loving his role as director of the Film school.  I have never seen him so stimulated and full of ideas and confidence.  It is as though he was made for the job and vice versa.

We watch the sun go down chatting and chatting about all his ideas and all the characters that work with him.  He has a lot to do, but in Cuba you feel as though miracles are possible.