Havana, the Obstinate Memory

in 35th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

by José Luis Losa

From the perspective of the Havana Film Festival the maintenance of vigilance in regard to the recovery of historical memory is essential – fiction or documentary films that dig into the facts of the recent past to extract images of political texture, like grains from a wasteland where forced amnesia or forgetfulness reign.

However, among 21 titles in competition as feature films, just three of them – the Argentinean movie ”The German Doctor” (Wakolda) directed by Lucía Puenzo, the Brazilian ”Memories They Told Me” (A Memória que me contan) by Lúcia Murat, and the Chilean ”Cirqo”, from Orlando Lübbert – dealt with the dark past in terms of the Nazi refugees in the Southern Cone, and the struggles against the military dictatorships in Chile and Brazil respectively. And, in my opinion, none of them were works of remarkable quality, even though ”The German Doctor” was one of the big award winners of Havana, as well as the Argentine representative in the bid for the Oscars. And so the space for historical memory in this year’s festival was set out in its excellent documentary programming.

Screening there was the film ”Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution”, a profound approach to one of the most wicked – however relegated to oblivion – American interventions to alter the democratic order in a country of the continent: the invasion of the island of Grenada. In this film, Bruce Paddington covers what was another utopia project, headed by the interests of the United States. Brilliantly outlined is the political figure of the socialist Maurice Bishop, the Allende Antillean, executed before his small country is plunged into chaos and flung to the onslaught of the marines. Paddington brings us up to the present instant, almost coincident with the release of the executioners of Bishop, who give their word in a sense not so far removed from the style used by the Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh.

Noteworthy also was ”Occupy the Imagination”, the remembrance that Rodrigo Dorfman, son of the famous Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman, formulated over years of government in his country by the Unidad Popular, rebuilt from a painfully poetic point of view on the embers of the Palacio de la Moneda, and intuitively linked to the present time by Dorfman to the Occupy Wall Street protests as a revival of the dreams of freedom.

An icon’s own memory of Havana, the lost city, the mecca of the mafia and struggles by the power of the capos in the years preceding the revolution is present in the German film ”Mafia Paradise”, by Hans-Peter Weymar, in which Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Alberto Anastasia and Santo Trafficante form a star-system of organized crime.

And outside the political prism but as the purest declaration of the need to rebuild memory, and lost childhood as the only homeland, it is necessary to put the spotlight on the exceptional ”Disrupted” (Quebranto), directed by Roberto Fiesco, in which the young actor of Mexican cinema Fernando García, popularly known as Piolito, looks back from his maturity, along with his elderly mother, to his evolution towards transvestism in his years of splendour.

This struggle and painful nostalgia are combined from the reverence and transmutation of the central character, here  “Proust’s Madeleine”, in a superb sublimation of kitsch that raises ”Disrupted” to a work on the wounds of time.

Edited by Carmen Gray