Jorge Perugorrìa, a well-rounded artist

in 36th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Furio Fossati

Jorge Perugorría is currently the most esteemed Cuban artist, expressing his worldview through painting and cinema, where he works as actor, scriptwriter and director. Perugorría is internationally acclaimed, especially for the movie Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1993), directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, in which Perugorría played the main character Diego, a gay man who has to face many problems. Perugorría makes his presence at the 36th International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema in Havana with two important titles, one as a director and the other as an actor.

One of the most important movies seen in these days, La pared de las palabras (The Wall of the Words, 2014) directed by Fernando Perez Valdes, has you as the extraordinary leading character.

I believe that Fernando is nowadays the most representative among the Cuban authors, and the international critics completely agree with that. So when offered me the role of Luis, I instantly accepted.

Can you tell us what is it about?

Luis has suffered from dystonia since he was a child, and he’s unable to communicate through body language or words. He has a younger brother who loves him and helps him with everything but considers him as a stumbling block towards his own happiness. The disabled Luis lives within a psychiatric institution, where a woman with Down syndrome is in love with him and treats him as her man. His mother lives only for him and blames herself for his diversity and, in a sense, hates the other son’s normality.

Carlo Enrique Almirante, your brother in this movie, is also the leading actor of the movie presented in the competition and under your direction.

For Fátima o el Parque de la Fraternidad (Fatima or Fraternity Park, 2014) I needed an actor able to completely identify with this character in between fiction and reality. I’ve been working for theatre, television and cinema, where I’ve acted in more than 50 movies so far and directed eight. I’ve been personally involved in the whole casting process, which lasted very long. Many actors were examined for every character before the right choice was made, but we had no problems or doubts with Almirante: he was Fatima with all her fears and her brazenness. He perfectly got the spirit of his character and I was so happy when he accepted the role.

Police had to attend the shows in order to prevent those who remained without ticket from stomping over people trying legitimately to enter the theatre.

This fact made me proud in a sense, and made me sad in another: I was happy that so many people wanted to watch it, and sorry for not being able to satisfy everybody.

A filmmaker who doesn’t love his audience doesn’t understand the essence of cinema.  How come did you deal with such a controversial and thorny issue like Fatima’s?

I embraced this work to speak about diversity, to expose the impossibility for young people to achieve a fulfilling life, to deal with the issue of illegal immigrants trying to enter U.S. by sea. The main plot, within all the story developments, is about a kid who feels himself different, who’s being turned down by his brute father and beloved by his mother. He studies and obtains his degree after undergoing many humiliations. He leaves the boondocks to reach Havana, where the unexpected encounter with an externally he-man changes his life: they fall in love, he helps him to become a Dark Lady but, in the same time, arranges for him one-night stands with men. He’s a playboy, whereas “she” is faithful and in love with him, even when her man sails away on a barge to the U.S.

Fatima is young Manolo’s stage name because Our Lady of Fatima appeared to him when he was a child and this experience imprinted his whole life, making him a laughing stock among his mates, in addition to the mockery prompted by his sexual orientation. Is he a loser?

No. He’s got a strong will that tranforms humiliations into small victories, and moments of sadness into chances to rise again even stronger.

Are you pleased with how the movie came off?

This is a question impossible to answer definitely. Every time I watch it I see always something I could have carried out in a different way. Anyway, the version I presented in this Festival is a work in progress, but the strong desire to be part of this event convinced me to present a work that still need post-production.

Going back to La pared de las palabras, criticism has been advanced towards director Fernando Perez Valdes.

La pared de las palabras is more than just a movie about disability; it involves the difficult task of human communication, the pain and the acceptable limits of the sacrifice of living in a flawed world for being close to those people who have to live with such critical situations. Fernando has been awarded with the Gran Coral at the Havana Festival both in the debut section and with a feature film, and he’s an author that before dealing with an issue studies a lot and pursues perfection in everything he does; maybe this attention towards every detail caused some delay, but I don’t think so. However, the audience will decide whether this work is worthy or not.

Projects for the future?

Many, so many—never too many. It’s good to express yourself in different ways, along with the emotions of the moment. Maybe I will commit myself to painting—a big expressive need of mine. But cinema gave me so much and I will surely never give it up.

Edited by José Teodoro