I Am Cuba By Renzo Fegatelli
La Havana. Crumbling buildings, broken balconies supported by barbed wire, leaves hanging from roots sprouting from the brick walls of the ghostly houses along the downtown streets. Very few tourists. Only habaneros, poor men with plenty of dignity in a desolate landscape. Forty years embargo, and sixteen since the Berlin wall collapsed, when the privileged relations with the USSR declined, seem to have contributed to the overthrow of the revolution with hunger. Humberto Solàs, one of the greatest Cuban directors of the revolution, who particularly imposed himself with women’s portraits – Manuela, Lucia, Cecilia – lives here.
The new Solàs film, Barrio, Cuba, won the Special Jury Prize of the 27th Havana International Festival of the new Latin American cinema, and a Special Jury Mention and the Audience Prize at the Huelva Film Festival. In his film, Solàs gives us a multiplicity of voices which represent the poor Havana districts as a whole. His fresco is dedicated to the Cuban lower classes and is the second film of the “poor cinema” trilogy. The first film was Miel para Oshun (Honey for Oshun).
Damaged by the radical changes following the fall of the Berlin wall, Solàs has not made a film for about ten years. The director, who used to support big productions, resumed his work in digital, with a very small budget and with a lot of Cuban actors who worked without pay. The result is a large fresco on the life of poor people, caught in a poverty-stricken quarter, neglected houses, crumbling staircases, the washing spread on the grass. The ghostly landscape in the background reminds us of the paintings of Sironi and Permeke. The characters react with their personal affairs, small infidelities and disputes too. They all live very difficult, fragile and insecure liveds on the margin of society.
Luisa Maria Jiménez, who won the Best Actress Award, plays a nurse with an unfaithful lover and who has an old blacksmith dreaming about her. She reacts strongly, abusing the lover and calming down the passionate blacksmith. Rafael Lahera plays a railway technician who goes mad as a result of his wife’s death in childbirth: he places the baby in the grandmothers’ care and leaves for the interior of the country where he faces desperate conditions. Jorge Perugorrìa and Isabel Santos make a happy pair. He works in the transport industry; she in a pharmacy. They have an average life, but he leaves because of a scene of jealousy. She is disconsolate and she prays to God to bring forth a child. In the film, not only do the couples quarrel but there are sons and fathers with a serious lack of understanding between them.
With masterly camera movements framing the different lives, Humbert Solàs has made a mosaic of a world falling into ruins. However, the film has a happy and almost mystical end, with a positive message about trust and a better future. Solàs himself called it a love song to Cuba. In an interview, the director stated that “the film is made in the slums of the suburbs, the ones that the Cuban cinema rarely shows. I wanted to get out of any Havana stereotypes, which began with Wim Wenders and The Buena Vista Social Club. I don’t take away the merit of the film, but certainly, as viewed by a foreigner, there was an unconscious restrictive judgement of our reality. I would like to close this cycle, I don’t know if I will succeed in finishing the work, but I wanted to portray the town such as I feel and see it: a Havana which has nothing to do either with Wim Wenders, or with other foreigners who come to make films here. The Havana of a habanero like me.”