Sweet Havana of Comandante

in 25th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema

by Boriana Mateeva

This movie recalls vigorously some essential humanistic messages of the Italian neorealism brightly managing in the same time the modern digital techniques. It tells the stories of 8 habaneros, taken in the middle of their everyday life. The dramatic structure is classic: 24 hours in Havana, from sunrise to sunrise. The stories develop fluently in a parallel way as the “movements” of a barocco musical suite, incerting a great variety of Cuban songs and rythms. And the stuff that puts together all these different fragments is the intimist and intensively tender vision of the director Fernando Perez (born 1944 in Havana).

“Suite Havana”, his 6th feature, could be seen as a documentary – for treating real persons “playing” in front of the camera their own lives, but this is a fiction too – because of the mise-en-scene of the real actions, with lightning, plan-contraplans, grues, dolly etc. People became actors without stopping being themselves. No interviews, no dialogues, not a single word pronounced interrupt the strong hypnotic flow of the images (brilliant achievement of Raul Perez Uretra, one of the best Cuban directors of photography), the touching musical score and the orchestration of authentic sounds.

Fernando Pérez confesses his inspiration from such classics as Walter Ruttmann’s “Berlin – Symphony of the big City” and Godfrey Reggio’s “Kooyanisqatsi”, but his “Suite Havana” remains totally original and personal art-work without a single cliché. The traditional “dramatic” conflict has disappeared – the great director’s challenge was to “communicate the conflicts not through big dramatic actions, but through everyday situations”. Just “Les choses de la vie” (“Things of Life”), not an acute critical vision (although the public sees it generally this way). Pérez focused essentially on the “value of the little things” – a father (architect, retired from work to take care of his son) kissing good night his down child, a lady carefully praparing the travestite costume of her husband, playing in a cabaret, an old woman slowly cleaning peanuts for dinner, a doctor playing a clown in children’s shows removing his make-up… All the power of this speachless movie comes from the sincere, open and spontaneous attitude both of the “characters” and the director. After the emotions (the picture has an intensive emotional impact, being half a documentary) comes the reflexion – deeply melancholic and appealing at the difficult and dramatic human condition.

The “Suite” ends with images of huge Carribean waves striking violently against the piers of the Malecon (Havana’s famous sea avenue). And the last light of the lighthouse at sunsise. And the brief sum up of the dreams of all these ordinary people, wishing just to have a normal life, to love and be loved and accomplish their lives as human beings.

For the audience in Cuba, fighting courageously to survive day to day “Suite Havana” has rapidly become and event, much greater than a good movie. A cult, a manifest of human dignity and moral stoicism.

At the last day of the Festival on a special screening was presented onother documentary – Oliver Stone’s “Comandante” – a close film portait of comandante Fidel Castro that I higly recommend. These two pictures made in a totally different style – one tender and impressionistic, the other aggressive and imposant in the pure Stone’s style could give us an idea of the actual Cuban situation, marking the dimensions of the will to survive with great dignity.