Time Travel Included

in 34th Havana International Festival of the New Latinamerican Cinema

by Rolf Rüdiger Hamacher

The journey to the 34th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana was a case of “time travelling”. Lovely antique American-looking road cruisers and markets filled with Che Guevara devotionals give you an instant sense of nostalgia. But there is also a nightmarish feeling that wells up. At the airport the passport control is reminiscent of the “Place of Tears” in the old east Germany: there are the same scary passenger areas with strict-looking personnel. Also, there are two class-divided business transactions that go on. One type of transaction sees people paying in local currency in front of near-empty shelves, even though you only get cheap goods for that. Supply shortfalls are part of everyday life: one day there are no eggs, and on another day there is no water with gas available. It’s like being back in the era of the old German Democratic Republic.

The public transport systems are always overfilled and stop at least at hand signals, but always end up every evening in a bus party. People sing and dance. In front of the cinema people can be seen queuing for the early afternoon screening for many blocks along, even though the cinema has the capacity for 800 to 1,800 people.

Especially popular were films from Cuba of course. The audience cheered for the protagonists and the lead actors were always celebrated with standing ovations at the end of the film. A typical “home match” which was throughout disappointed by art.

The film La Pelicula de Ana by Daniel Diaz Torres is a “film-within-a-film” comedy. The film is in the style of the much-loved Latin American TV soap operas. Jorge Luis Sanchez’s musical Irremediablemente Juntos was obviously choreographed by a fitness trainer. Probably both films won’t have any chance of success on the international market. At least the film Se Vende by Jorge Perugorria convinced a bit with its rudimentary artistry. It’s a black comedy with unnecessarily over-complicated allusions about the social state of things in Cuba that was taken in and commented on with pleasure by the audience.

This kind of reflection was also evident in the best films of the festival. For example, in the reworking of historical themes shown in the Chilean film No. The director Pablo Larrain intensifies the plebiscite in 1988 for or against the dictator Pinochet into a political thriller, which also includes documentary material. It is reminiscent of the best work of Costa-Gavras. The Mexican director Antonio Mendez Esparza also succeeded with Aqui y Alla, a popular portrait about a family. The family always drift apart due to economic poverty because the father has to work in New York to make money.

This year saw much boundary-crossing in short and feature-length films. Themes included sexuality and (everyday) violence: serious conflicts with male and female prostitution, drug wars and dead-end gang life. The audience always watched with interest and patience. The audience left the cinema in droves only from the FIPRESCI winner Los Mejores Temas. After the announcement of the prize at the “audience day” which had been rescheduled to the evening all 800 seats in the cinema were sold out. At the end of the film only about 40 people remained in the cinema. The FIPRESCI jury apparently did a great job and proved the mainstream wrong!?

Edited by Carmen Gray