By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES, June 6 – Amalia, an old spiritualist, just became a widow. She lives with Cristobal, her eight-year-old grandson, and her youngest son, Mayito, on the upper floor of an old building located in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.
She also has other children. One, with his rigid principles, is dedicated to honest work on a farm in the interior of the country. He is the father of Cristobal and was left by his wife, a dancer. The other is a resentful architect who lives in the United States.
Amalia (Veronica Lynn) decided to gather her children together to read the testament of Octavio, her deceased husband.
That could be the synopsis of La Anunciación (The Annunciation), the latest movie by Enrique Pineda Barnet, winner of the Grand Prize at the last edition of the International Festival of Low-Budget Cinema of Gibara. The film was screened for the first time this May in Cuban cinemas.
Pineda Barnet, a well-known director and scriptwriter, has directed several of the most important films in Cuba. Among those stand out La Bella del Alhambra, which was a cultural event on the island; it won 42 international awards, including Spain’s Goya Award in 1990 for the best Spanish-language foreign film, in addition to having been nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign movie that same year.
When entering Amalia’s home, memory returns to a tyranny that lashes the characters in the film and that doesn’t allow the spectator’s thought to advance to a safe port.
In the movie – with moments that are at times overwhelming and in other instances repressed – a load of frustrations jump from the big screen to seize the bodies of us viewing the film. There is constant gloating over the past, over the good and bad that this family lived. It is a reflection of many Cuban families, where daily stories of sadness, sacrifice, nostalgia and contradictions burgeon.
The family reunion revives old differences, although it also puts the cards on the table, allowing for possible reconciliation.
The architect (Broselianda Hernandez) returns home (to the same house, one that never changes) with the same sadness with which she left, despite having formed a family in the country where she lives. The different members of the family welcome her, each in their own way.
The oldest sibling (with an insinuation of an incestuous history in the past) appears as a failure. When he was young he quit his studies to devote himself to agriculture; now he continues saying that he is doing what the Revolution requires, though his face and behavior tell us different. He is a man conquered by circumstances, a burn out.
Mayito (Ismael Diego), the youngest sibling, is a Havana troubadour. He is committed to his era, which is not the same as that of his siblings, and even less than that of his parents. He is the only one who says what he thinks.
The other two are characterized by interrupted sentences, as if they are hiding something, as if they are afraid of expressing themselves, or as if their words will throw open Pandora’s box.
Cristobal (Robertico Diaz) is a boy who only wants to live in peace; he understands neither lies nor problems. For him, life is a game that sometimes becomes serious.
Amalia, the grandmother, believes she can solve everything. She thinks that her death is close at hand and hopes that things will work themselves her in her way. However, not all generations think the same; what is valid for some, others don’t take into account.
The central theme of the film is truth.
Who hides it?
Who does it reveal?
To what extent can it be manipulated?
Is something achieved by avoiding it?
We ask ourselves all these questions when leaving the cinema.
Despite it being a sad movie, it doesn’t bring us to tears nor move us deeply. What could be something truly believable about the day-to-day toll of life that it depicts, fails to convince.
It remains halfway between expression and silence, between pain and forgiveness, between leaving and staying.
The film provokes a reflection about Cuban life. Sentences like “dad’s feelings aren’t going to change,” expressed by the older brother (Hector Noas) after the father’s death, convey to us the fear of people who look at change as if it were “the plague” and not something necessary and natural.
Also, the reflection “on an island you either sink or leave,” intimated by Mayito, reveals a youth tired of stagnation who wants to experience life in other lands.
Without a doubt, what we see in this film is almost the testament of the director. It is his picture of what appears in the portraits in the old house; it is his voice that speaks for Octavio, the dead father. His desire that we improve as human beings is what drives the storyline.
The message in the background of the film is its insistence in that “everyone loves, because beyond the differences there is nothing greater than caring for one another.”
But the reconciliation that the director intends is not clear; he doesn’t specify if the problem is that we accept ourselves as we are or that we try not to make the same mistakes of the past to avoid the same consequences.