By Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES – “Inocencia” (Innocence), the new Cuban film now in movie theaters, is based on the tragedy of eight medical students who were executed in 1871.
Winner of the Popularity Award at the 40th edition of the Havana Film Festival last December, its director, Alejandro Gil, is a filmmaker who has opted for historic stories, with La Emboscada and the documentary Piensa en mi, about Maria Mantilla’s letters with Jose Marti. As well as La Pared and Extravios, both of which are fictional.
The movie tells us how these young people were charged with a fabricated crime and the punishment that followed.
Anacleto Bermudez, Angel Laborde, Jose de Marcos y Medina, Juan Pascual Rodriguez and Alonso Álvarez de la Campa were taken to trial twice for desecrating the grave of Gonzalo de Castanon.
Another four students were chosen by a kind of raffle, and the eight of them were then executed by gunshot on November 27th. The remaining medical students then served 4-6 year prison sentences.
The false accusation, brutal execution, was a settling of the score, revenge by the Spanish army’s volunteers corp. Castanon was a journalist and spokesperson for a newspaper that defamed Cuban emigres in Cayo Hueso, US, the place where he was shot and killed by a Cuban man in 1870.
Back then, Cuba was a Spanish colony. Maximo Gomez and Calixto Garcia’s columns launched battles to try and rescue the country’s independence. The Spanish army retaliated and terrorized the city, killing any Cuban that was suspected of being disloyal.
Gil creates this movie with parallel plots: the first from Fermin Valdes Dominguez’s point of view, one of those students, a doctor and friend of Jose Marti, who 16 years later, follows clues to the place where his colleagues were buried, which was unknown. The other is a timeline of events.
The Abakua uprising to free the prisoners when they are about to be executed is interesting. Is it true or just a myth? The truth is that when I was a student, I never saw this execution reflected in my textbooks.
You’d have to have a look at 27 de noviembre, the book written by Fermin Valdes Dominguez which there are several editions of, the last one in 1969. An edition which should have a critical edition for people who are interested, in my opinion.
The feature movie is slow-paced, however, you don’t get bored and it isn’t propagandist. Fiction and history go hand-in-hand and they compliment one another. One of the movie’s greatest artistic achievements is its photography, with dark lights and sepia tones, which reflect the time. There was a careful study of art direction because it doesn’t seem like a film made out of cardboard, the opposite in fact. The soundtrack is moving and extremely beautiful.
Locations were scouted in the Historic Center which had the approval of Havana’s City Historian, who the film is dedicated to. The actors playing the students bring a fresh performance.
While the terrible scenes played out on the big screen, I heard people crying, echoes of pain, angry words. I realized that there are still audiences who can be touched, and they like movies that are far removed from trivial productions.
I believe that it’s important for us to watch this piece of our history, but it also serves as a reflection for us to know the extent to which forces of power can operate with immunity.