People laugh in the darkened room, the seats creak, and from the bathroom a reek invades everything. It’s nighttime at a Havana movie theater and the audience is enjoying the most recent Cuban comedy. Titled For Sale, it was directed by the well-known actor Jorge Perugorría and has already been shown in an extended series of openings. A controversial film that provokes laughter on the one hand, and fierce criticism on the other, it has its favor that it doesn’t leave its viewers indifferent. Either they laugh with pleasure, or get up in the middle of the screening and leave. Such reactions are also symptomatic of how we Cubans respond to certain issues, work and people. We tend to love or repudiate; to applaud or reject, with no intermediate points.
This is a humorously macabre story, with dead people who must be disinterred at the cemetery in the middle of the night. The script takes us by the hand through the absurdity of a reality where the sale of a tomb and the bones sheltered within it is the only path to financial relief for a young professional. For Sale unwinds in an also cadaverous Havana, a city of faded houses with balconies on the point of collapse. It presents us with a society where scruples and urges give way before the imperatives of survival. A wake-up call about the ferocious pragmatism that invades us, leaving nothing safe. A metaphor, perhaps, of a time in which the past is viewed with irreverence and a desire to liquidate it, by we who live in the present.
In its favor, the movie also makes several references to the classics of Cuban filmography. The well-known game of mirrors — the film within the film — amplified and referenced. An explicit tribute to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón) and Juan Carlos Tabío. The Death of a Bureacrat, For Trade, Strawberry and Chocolate, are some of the films referred to throughout the movie. However, some of these references pass unnoticed by a large audience, one that younger or less versed in national cinema doesn’t know its antecedents. Rather than a difficulty, this lack of reference points allows another way to understand the story being told. If the script wanted to turn these hints into evocations, they’re left for many as events at the same level as others. The trick of the lens looking into the lens needs an aware viewer, otherwise it’s seen as one more point in the story.
And then came the actor…
The figure of the director also cast as one of the protagonists is something new in the cinematography of the island.
Few native directors have alternated between both sides of the camera. In For Sale, the union of these roles doesn’t occur in the cautious manner of Alfred Hitchcock, where we see, for a few seconds and in the shadows, his chubby profile. In this case the spectator senses that the character of Noel recalls, too much, the actor who plays him, perhaps because his designer and interpreter are the same person. It is clear, however, that the entire filming must have been like a huge party for all the participants. To the point that at the end of the filmstrip it rushes to conclude in a great celebration where it seems to offer a solution to all the problems. An abrupt and often repeate, closing in Cuban comedies, that bore more than entertain.
Although with Nácar, the female protagonist, the script reaches for it, it misses an intimacy, leaving only a timidity that is not credible. Lacking the weight of interior emotion that has nothing to do with the easy laugh, something we have become accustomed to in movies made in Cuba. The excessive sex scenes and erotic allusions, designed to fill theater seats, in hopes of seeing a nipple here, a thigh there… a couple kissing in the shower. “Wankers” all over the country are pleased with a script that offers them many minutes of bedrooms, beds, cunnilingus and even lesbian moments. Another contribution to the hackneyed stereotype of a hyper-eroticized national identity obsessed with the pleasures of the body. The ideological clichés are harmful, but the carnal also echoes banal and enduring perceptions.
If you have to sacrifice the dead to feed the living…
Beyond the pitfalls and limitations of For Sale, its main achievement is to convey a message of particular importance for Cubans today. Filled with laughter, the myths of the past are picked apart, yesterday’s buried bodies are liquidated. The dead stay dead and serve only in regards to the imperatives of the living, every minute of the film seems to tell us. The corpse of the protagonist’s father, an ideologically inflexible man, at the end of the reel is a mere mannequin in an exposition. Played by the actor Mario Balmaseda in the manner of a rigid Lenin, index finger raised, this character embodies the political leaders whose old-fashioned speech provokes laughter more than sympathy. Leaders and ideas in liquidation once their time is passed; the stark conclusion of this filmstrip.
I am among those who stayed until the final minute of Jorge Perugorría’s film. I laughed through several of its scenes and reflected during others. Despite my own objections and criticisms, I preferred to find its nuances and intermediate points. I gave it a chance and I think it was worth it. Because through its 95 minutes, the script reaffirmed an idea I have pondered for years: no one can bear so much past, carrying on their back the weight of all the deceased. A nation is not a cemetery where the living must comply with the designs of those who are gone. The same thing ends up happening to political last wills and testaments as happens to the bones in the film For Sale: they are auctioned off for the imperatives and pragmatism of now.
L’organisation internationale contre la torture lance une “intervention d’urgence” pour José Daniel Ferrer
MIAMI, États-Unis.- L’Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits humains (OPDDH), a lancé ce vendredi une campagne d'”Interventions urgentes” en faveur du prisonnier politique et de conscience cubain José Daniel Ferrer García, leader de l’Union patriotique de Cuba (UNPACU), selon une note de Radio Televisión Martí.
Who Is Filling Cuba’s University Classrooms?
New students at the University of Havana (14ymedio) Born during the Special Period, they have grown up trapped in the dual currency system, and when they get their degrees Raul Castro will no longer be in power. They are the more than 100,000 young people just starting college throughout the country. Their brief biographies include educational experiments, battles of ideas, and the emergence of new technologies They know more about X-Men than about Elpidio Valdés, and only remember Fidel Castro from old photos and archived documentaries. They are the Wi-Fi kids with their pirate networks, raised with the “packets” of copied shows and illegal satellite dishes
Born during the Special Period, they have grown up trapped in the dual currency system, and when they get their degrees Raul Castro will no longer be in power. They are the more than 100,000 young people just starting college throughout the country. Their brief biographies include educational experiments, battles of ideas, and the emergence of new technologies They know more about X-Men than about Elpidio Valdés, and only remember Fidel Castro from old photos and archived documentaries.
They are the Wi-Fi kids with their pirate networks, raised with the “packets” of copied shows and illegal satellite dishes. Some nights they would connect through routers and play strategy video games that made them feel powerful and free. Whoever wants to know them should know that they’ve had “emerging teachers” since elementary school and were taught grammar, math and ideology via television screens. However, they ended up being the least ideological of the Cubans who today inhabit this Island, the most cosmopolitan and with the greatest vision of the future.
On arriving at junior high school they played at throwing around around the obligatory snack of bread while their parents furtively passed their lunches through the school gate. They have a special physical ability, an adaptation that has allowed them to survive the environment; they don’t hear what doesn’t interest them, they close their ears to the harangues of morning assemblies and politicians. They seem lazier than other generations and in reality they are, but in their case this apathy acts like an evolutionary advantage. They’re better than us and will live in a country that has nothing to do with what we were promised.
A few months ago, these same young people, starred in the best known case of school fraud uncovered publicly. Some of those hoping to earn a place in higher education bought the answers to an admissions test. They were used to paying for approval, because they had to turn to private tutors to teach them what they should have learned in the classroom. Many of those who recently enrolled in the university had private teachers starting in elementary school. They are the children of a new emerging class that has used its resources so that their children can reach a desk at the right hand — or the left — of the alma mater.
These young people dressed in uniforms in their earlier grades, but they struggled to differentiate themselves through the length of a shirt, a fringe of bleached hair, or through pants sagging below their hips. They are the children of those who barely had a change of underwear in the nineties, so their parents tried to make sure they didn’t “go through the same thing,” and turned to the black market for their clothes and shoes. They mock the false austerity and, not wanting to look like militants, they love bright shiny colors and name brand outfits.
Yesterday, with the start of the school year, they received a lecture about the attempts of “imperialism to undermine the revolution through its youth.” It was like a faint drizzle running over an impervious surface. The government is right to be worried; these young people who have entered the university will never become good soldiers or fanatics. The clay from which they are made cannot be molded.
Who Is Filling Cuba’s University Classrooms?
A Caricature of a Cuban Woman
Woman drinking (14ymedio) 14yMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 August 2014 — A woman on national television said that her husband “helps” her with some household chores. To many, the phrase may sound like the highest aspiration of every woman. Another lady asserts that her husband behaves like a “Federated man,” an allusion to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which today is celebrating its 54th anniversary. As for me, on this side of the screen, I feel sorry for them in the face of such meekness
14yMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 August 2014 — A woman on national television said that her husband “helps” her with some household chores. To many, the phrase may sound like the highest aspiration of every woman. Another lady asserts that her husband behaves like a “Federated man,” an allusion to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which today is celebrating its 54th anniversary. As for me, on this side of the screen, I feel sorry for them in the face of such meekness. Instead of the urgent demands they should mention, all I hear is this appreciation directed to a power as manly as it is deaf.
It’s not about “helping” to wash a plate or watch the kids, nor tiny illusory gender quotas that hide so much discrimination like a slap. The problem is that economic and political power remains mainly in masculine hands. What percentage of car owners are women? How many acres of land are owned or leased by women. How many Cuban ambassadors on missions abroad wear skirts? Can anyone recite the number of men who request paternity leave to take care of their newborns? How many young men are stopped by the police each day to warn them they can’t walk with a tourist? Who mostly attends the parent meetings at the schools?
Please, don’t try to “put us to sleep” with figures in the style of, “65 percent of our cadres and 50 percent of our grassroots leaders are women.” The only thing this statistic means is that more responsibility falls on our shoulders, which means neither a high decision-making level nor greater rights. At least such a triumphalist phrase clarifies that there are “grassroots leaders,” because we know that decisions at the highest level are made by men who grew up under the precepts that we women are beautiful ornaments to have at hand… always and as long as we keep our mouths shut.
I feel sorry for the docile and timid feminist movement that exists in my country. Ashamed for those ladies with their ridiculous necklaces and abundant makeup who appear in the official media to tell us that “the Cuban woman has been the greatest ally of the Revolution.” Words spoken at the same moment when a company director is sexually harassing his secretary, when a beaten woman can’t get a restraining order against her abusive husband, when a policeman tells the victim of a sexual assault, “Well, with that skirt you’re wearing…” and the government recruits shock troops for an act of repudiation against the Ladies in White.
Women are the sector of the population that has the most reason to shout their displeasure. Because half a century after the founding of the caricature of an organization that is the Federation of Cuban Women, we are neither more free, nor more powerful, nor even more independent.
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A Caricature of a Cuban Woman
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