New Cuban Documentary against Oblivion and Lightness


Lynn Cruz (Havana Times) writes about Retrato de un artista siempre adolescente [Portrait of an ever-adolescent artist]—a history of cinema in Cuba. This is the most recent documentary by Cuban filmmaker Manuel Herrera, director of Zafiros, Locura azul (1997), and Bailando Cha Cha Chá (2004), among others. Cruz writes:

A hilarious film, ingenious as its protagonist, the late filmmaker and actor Julio Garcia Espinosa (1926-2016), whose films include “El Mégano” (1955), “Adventures of Juan Quin Quin” (1967), “Reina y Rey” (1994).

Herrera collects the impressions of those who along with Garcia Espinosa pursued the utopia, to make a new Cuban cinema grow, through the creation in 1959 of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Icaic). “Portrait of an artist always adolescent” (a history of cinema in Cuba) is the echo of an era: “The sixties”.

How to be national and at the same time universal? Garcia Espinosa experimented with a groundbreaking mix that balanced tradition with the popular Cuban. His studies at the Experimental Cinematography Center in Rome identified him with Italian neo-realism, although he was also an admirer of the Frenchman Jean Luc Godard and the German Bertolt Brecht. These influences are visible in the estrangements Garcia Espinosa makes in his film “Aventuras de Juan Quin Quin”.

Some believe that he was a ground-breaker, but his filmography also shows interest in tackling more everyday issues such as the vicissitudes of a woman to feed her dog. Thus his film “Reyna y Rey” (Queen and King) is a great metaphor of the social situation lived in Cuba in the decade of the 90s.

The most important legacy, apart from his films, may be the definition of imperfect cinema, a concept born of Garcia Espinosa’s own rebellion against Hollywood’s entertainment industry. He maintains that the lack of a budget cannot be a creative obstacle.

It is not about seducing, but about sharing the art, the theater, the music that also enchanted him and especially the cinema, as a tool for self-reflection. It is about making a cinema in which the spectator is not a subject but completes the fable. Also to have the possibility of searching and also being wrong.

[. . .] Something of that creative spirit germinates from time to time on the Island, but mostly within independent cinema, although in recent years, the crowdpleaser has reappeared on the big Cuban screen, “Juan de los Muertos” (2011), by Alejandro Brugués; “Sergio and Serguei” (2017), by Ernesto Daranas ,; “El Acompañante” (2015), by Pavel Giroud; “The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste García” (2018), by Arturo Infante.

Some remember the decline of the Icaic in the 80s. Light comedies, evasive themes, characterized that period. Now, one or another joke of political humor might be included, probably to seduce the Cuban audience, but without losing sight of the international market. I speak of the political, because in Cuba the individual versus history continues with a capital letter, in such a way that even wanting to please the majority, it is inevitable to touch the taboo subject for Cubans.

It is not trivial that the character of the alienated person reappears sharply in “Memories of Development” (2010), by Miguel Coyula, who has his background in “Memories of Underdevelopment” (1968), by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, a classic of Cuban filmography. Both films are based on the homonymous novels of the Cuban writer Edmundo Desnoes.

Another example of risky cinema (although sometimes and in a healthy way admits to being wrong), even when he makes more classic films such as “Insumisa” (2018), co-directed with the Swiss filmmaker Laura Cazador, Fernando Perez is perhaps the most important living Cuban filmmaker, “Madagascar” (1994), “Suite Habana” (2003), “Madrigal” (2007), “Last days in Havana” (2016)… His films are very different from each other. His restlessness for the search is breathed, for always trying something different.

“La obra del siglo” (The work of the century) (2016), by Carlos M. Quintela, risks not only content (three generations of men alone, grandfather, father and grandson, living in the same space), but also in form. “Santa and Andrés” (2016), by Carlos Lechuga, generated movement, controversy. It includes for the first time on the screen an act of repudiation of the army against a writer without adornments or lightness. Both these films have been awarded, and seen in many parts of the world, but have not yet been released in Cuba. [. . .]

What is most appreciated in Herrera’s film, besides the freshness, imagination, and cinematographic creativity, is the fact of fighting against oblivion, that energy used by those who defended the ideas of making a truly national cinema. [. . .]

For original article, see


One thought on “New Cuban Documentary against Oblivion and Lightness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s