HAVANA TIMES — Cuban filmmakers have made movies about bourgeois families ruined by their own arrogance (The Survivors, 1978), a young man involved in Cuba’s literacy campaign (The Brigadier, 1977), a baseball player (Guarding Bases, 1985) and even a seer (Amanda’s Prophecies, 1999), so why shy away from the story of a transvestite?
That may have been the sole impulse that led actor and filmmaker Jorge Perugorria to make “Fatima o el Parque de la Fraternidad,” a film which premiered at last year’s Havana Film Festival.
Based on a story by Miguel Barnet, the film’s dramatic plot oscillates between the introspective and retrospective, offering us glimpses of Fatima’s life.
Once again, images of 1920s Havana are burned into our memory: the Parque de la Fraternidad, that renowned green area in the city’s downtown, is a place where homosexuals, “thrill-seekers”, pimps, tourists and transvestites meet. It is the first place Manolito stopped at after arriving in the capital from the rural town of Madruga, fleeing from his parents’ mistreatment and the monotony of the countryside, where he’d already had sexual adventures with many of the men in his rural neighborhood.
Manolito came across both good and bad people along the way. Overcoming adversity, he began to work as a technician at a computer club. His life was uneventful until he met Andres, an unscrupulous lover who convinced him that hooking in women’s clothing would be a quick and easy way to make money.
Thus would Manolito become Fatima and, alternating between ostentatious women’s clothing and the glittering apparel worn at seedy cabarets, he begin maintaining the high standard of living demanded by his lover, take gifts to his mother and eating meat regularly.
This is all the movie offers us, and I suspect it had no intentions of doing more than that. It is yet another movie in the long list of Cuban films produced in recent decades, dealing with a society in crisis where social differences, the wish to leave the country, prostitution, hunger and other demons are portrayed.
The film also comes to swell another category, that of Cuban films dealing with gay issues, a trend that began in 1993 with the release of Strawberry and Chocolate (a film followed by The Motionless Traveler, Old House and Fable, whose stories touch on the issue discretely). We have also seen films sincerely committed to a sincere exploration of the issue, such as Chamaco (2011), Green-Green (2012), The Departure (2013) and, more recently, Wedding Dress (2014).
Despite its talented cast (Tomas Caos as Andres, Broselianda Hernadez as the mother, Nestor Jimenez as the father, Mirta Ibarra as Olena, Mario Guerra as Vega and Jazz Vila and Cucu Diamantes as the transvestite prostitutes), all are largely forgettable next to Carlos Enrique Almirante, who offers a truly remarkable performance as the lead.
Fatima or el Parque de la Fraternidad does not aim to be a daring film. It merely tells a story, a personal drama. It won’t be one of the unforgettables of Cuban cinema. Those who are anxious to see its premiere at cinemas, or who, like me, saw a bad, pirated copy on a computer, should still go and see it.