Cuba's digital destination
This eagerly awaited movie, sponsored by Havana Club, premiered last night (Saturday December 10, 2011) in Havana?s Charlie Chaplin Cinema. This was the one and only showing of the film at the Festival. The great and the good of Havana?s glitterati were all in attendance, ready with sharp elbows to fight for their seats. In typical, and entirely fitting, Havana style, the start of the film was delayed due to a power cut which caused a certain degree of consternation amongst the foreign visitors trapped inside the cinema, for everyone else it is a shrug of the shoulders, a whatever.
The film is composed of seven short vignettes (chapters), one for each day of the week and each made by a separate director including the renowned Benicio Del Toro. The other directors are Pablo Trapero, Elia Suleiman, Julio Medem, Gaspar No?, Juan Carlos Tab?o and Laurent Cantet. It seeks to show ?a contemporary portrait of this eclectic city, vital and forward-looking?with each director seeking to capture, through their different sensibilities, origins and cinematographic styles, the energy and vitality that make Havana unique.?
It opens strongly with the lightest episode, La Yuma, a clich? tale about an American (Yuma) in Havana being bedazzled by one gorgeous woman after another. It is well-done, funny, sets the party moving and has a good kick in the tale. The second part is probably the best and features the Serbian director, Emir Kusturica, playing well, himself. Anyone familiar with his work and life will recognize the intense, brooding, alcoholic character for the same man who says; ?Every time I’m shooting a movie I want to kill myself.? Evading the official dinner, Emir escapes with his taxi driver (the co-star) who turns out to be an out of this world trumpet player. Titled The Jam Session Emir stays with his taxi driver (and trumpet player) and his friends listening to their music until the sun rises.
Third up is another clich? Cuban tale of money versus love. Cecelia is a beautiful singer being wooed by a slick Spanish character full of recording contract promises and a new life away from the privations of Cuba. Her husband is extremely well portrayed as a strong macho man (and baseball star), who, when she tells him that she is leaving, says little but has a powerful dignity drawing her back.
So far, so good. Thursday and Friday are the weakest parts of the chain though and interrupt the flow. Having sucked you in, you are now left wondering whether the director simply got bored and couldn?t face finishing his work on Thursday (The Beginner), which tells the story of a visiting Palestine official awaiting a meeting with Fidel. One joke of Fidel talking endlessly is not enough to carry this part. Friday is the Ritual, which tells the story of a Babalao cleansing a young woman who was caught by her parents with another girl. This has a dark, brooding intensity with none of the humour or lightness of the rest of the movie. The drumbeat gets behind your eyes and entrenches itself firmly and securely.
The weekend lightens up the mood and these are the parts, which will appeal most to a Cuban audience as they tell the story of ordinary Cuban life. The things that people do to get by and how everything can be resolved with imagination and solidarity. On Saturday the Cuban doctor is struggling to make cakes, while her retired army colonel husband is on the hunt for eggs in the neighbourhood. In the final part which closes the movie the main character looks to her neighbours for some help in last minute renovations to her apartment in preparations for a babalao?s visit later in the day. This is ridiculous but it works and the humour is real and again it touches on real Cuban life.
What I liked best about this movie is that it picks interesting Cuban characters and shows them in a realistic way. While some of the stories may be clich?d the telling of them is not, and the music and general cinematography is outstanding. This is sympathetic to Cuba but not uncritical, the license it takes with certain geography is minimal and even the use of old Fidel footage, while something of a cheat is a reasonable one. For those not familiar with Cuba it may be difficult to fully appreciate some of the nuances — for those that are familiar there is a lot to recognize but nothing that irritates. Whether this finds a broader audience remains to be seen but it deserves to and should be put on the must see list of films set in Cuba.
Benicio del Toro
Juan Carlos Tab?o