An Insight To Cuban Film Production

in 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Juan Ramón Ferrera Vaillant

Among the 18 feature films in the fiction contest at the 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, which took place from the 8th to the 18th of December 2016, three belong to Cuba: Enrique Álvarez´s Sharing Stella, Lester Hamlet´s Ya no es antes (Not like before); and Fernando Pérez´s Últimos días en La Habana (Last Days in Havana).

Sharing Stella, which was awarded the Coral prize for postproduction at the 37th Festival, again provokes, as did Enrique Álvarez´s La ola (1995), opposing opinions about the quality of Enrique Álvarez´s cinema. Sharing Stella reflects on the quest of a film director (Enrique Álvarez) searching for a leading actress for his adaptation of Tennessee Williams´ play A Streetcar Named Desire, at the time when diplomatic relations between Cuba and USA are being restored. The picture, which received mention from the Federation of Cuban Movie Clubs, showcases a portrait of a young generation of actors, members of the theatrical group El Público, like Tony Alonso, Deisy Forcade, Yanier Palmero and César Domínguez, proving that Álvarez films have a proper look to tell stories.

Lester Hamlet´s Ya no es antes has the virtue of updating the outstanding theatrical play Weekend in Bahía, written by the late Cuban playwright Alberto Pedro, exuding an intelligent handling of adaptation tools. The film received the audience prize, awarding Hamlet for the second time, following his Casa vieja in 2010. Ya no es antes speaks about life in Cuba from the point of view of former lovers, openly divulging many truths, uncovering fears with courage. It’s a Cuban actors’ film. I think it will not be possible from now on to talk about worthy performances in our national cinema without making mention of Luis Alberto García in this movie, justly recognized with the Coral best actor prize.

Nevertheless, the most outstanding Cuban feature in competition was Últimos días en La Habana. With this movie, Fernando Pérez (Cuban Cinema 2007 National Prize) reasserts his position as one of the most rewarded filmmakers of the Havana Film Festival; besides his victories with Hello, Hemingway, Madagascar, La vida es silbar and Suite Habana, he has now won the Special Jury Prize. The picture also achieved a best sound award for Sheyla Pool, and other collateral prizes from the international and national federation of movie clubs as well as the award of the New Latin American Cinema Foundation voted by cybernauts. With actors Jorge Martínez and Patricio Wood in the leading roles, Pérez’s most recent proposal tackles human relations through an original local story, but one with universal significance. The plot focuses in two friends: Diego, who lies in bed with AIDS, and Miguel, who dreams of moving to New York. The excellent screenplay, dealing with friendship and frustration, stands out. But so do the actors, not only the two leading ones, because of their moving characters; there is also a young actress Gabriela Ramos, who embodies Yusisleydis, an immature and honest teenager. An intense movie, unfolding in the enclosed space of a room, reflects the values, crises and hopes of the main characters. Pérez express in this film an excellent metaphor of human beings in their social relations, which proves his maturity as a filmmaker. In short, Últimos días de La Habana stands out for of its solid storytelling, from a well conceived structure; the power of its images, worthily recreated in the ending; its profound ideas to express and pave the way for sincere thoughts about the value of friendship; and the successful portrait of psychological characters with proper and different personalities, far away from any caricature. Undoubtedly, the 38th Havana International New Latin American Film Festival enhanced the best of the Cuban film art through three suggestive movies, which demonstrate the quality of contemporary Cuban cinema.

Edited by José Teodoro