"Horn of Plenty": Juan Carlos Tabío: The Humour and the Irony By Mayra Álvarez Díaz

in 30th Havana International Festival of the New Latinamerican Cinema

by Mayra Alvarez

Humour is not only a characteristic element in the comedy genre. It is an ingredient or a condition which can also be considered from different points of view. Thus, one can distinguish forms as well as intentions many times driven through other ways, but at the end, it’s the director’s ‘modus facendi’which has the last word.

Therefore, to make an audience laugh is something serious — very serious, in the case of the Cuban filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabío, when he shoots a comedy. This is a genre in which he has frequently worked since his first movie House for Swap (Se Permuta, 1982), including his former shorts El Radio (1976), La Cadena (1978), and later the well-received Dolly Back (1986). Tabío’s comedies employ signs and codes, rather than a bunch of gags, chases, slaps or pratfalls in the American style. Tabío’s films are custom comedies more in the line of neo-realism, commenting upon different immediate social concerns and carrying a touch of irony, a detail which perhaps may be watched like a negative symptom within its richness; nevertheless, it’s the complement which enriches a comedy, being at the same time a resource as old as mankind. And it’s that humour, with its basis in irony, which finds those elements of life which like small slices make us leap to thought through little inflections.

Tabío’s latest film, Horn of Plenty (El cuerno de la abundancia), is a comedy of customs, of situations, with good quantities of irony and humour. Within his comic filmography, it can be considered the director’s most solid work, though one can glimpse some small slips. This comedy of confusing situations, in certain moments, reflects very significant moods with also very proper interpretations “in the Cuban manner”. It displays, however, an assembly of crazy characters — underlined by irony — as well as real ones drawn from Cuban society, all conceived with a creativity which has been growing since films like Plaff! Or, Too Afraid of Life (Demasiado Miedo a la Vida o Plaff, 1988).

Eduardo Esquide, working on a Cuban production for the first time, does a fine job in the sound recording, as does cinematographer Hans Burman, already known in Cuba for other movies he has made there. His adjustment to screenwriter Arturo Arango is an achievement which makes the structure of the plot easily intelligible, though some sequences could have been better exploited or even deleted; the struggle of the main character to complete a quiet sexual act without interruption is perhaps a joking reference to Arturo Sotto Diaz’ Vertical Love (Amor Vertical).

The film builds its story around some real complications in Cuba in the 1990s, about an imaginary town and the possibility of a large inheritance which a large family and its descendents could receive — an homage to Luis García Berlanga’s comedy Bienvenido Mr. Marshall, perhaps. Certain circumstances provoke some extreme situations, where selfishness, envy and other bad feelings from the dark side of humanity come around. There a lot of metaphorical elements in the film from the first to the last, with a balance between social satire and social criticism about the economic situation of the country — in much the same manner as Bienvenido Mr. Marshall. Other interpretations? It’s open to any or all of them.

But, what else happens with the viewer? Cuban people, in general, like to laugh. Therefore, the joke — the act of making fun of someone and the attendant irony — are refreshing means in daily life, or in a better sense, attractive ways which make laughter possible at any moment. And though the film is not seen by one unique viewer, it is a movie made to be watched by different human groups who don’t always have the same cultural roots. And that is precisely, from my point of view, the Achilles heel of certain comedies that choose to be very local. It’s a point capable of changing the meaning of the film, turning upside down its interpretation by the public. It’s a risk. It is true that any comedy, regardless of how it is made, is intended as an amusement, but it can be a serious amusement, rather than a series of empty laughs. It’s important for a director to take care of his story so that it won’t cross into caricature — not even with a rose petal — to produce hilarity in comedy. In spite of a good character design, the hero Enrique Molina creates is familiar from his other performances. Certainly, such an uncompromising person could exist — but this actor has already played that character in several films.

Ultimately, what Horn of Plenty offers is a comedy “in the Cuban manner”, where not a sour intention nor a cruel idea is present. It’s a comedy built out of absurd situations exist, but this sometimes happens in real life. Maybe, for that reason, I find myself thinking of an idea Jean Baudrillard once put forth: That in his heart, a man truly desires neither power nor money, but to reinvent reality.