By Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES – Sergio is a professor of Marxism-Leninism, who studied Philosophy in the former USSR, and a radio ham in his free time. He happened to get in touch with Russian cosmonaut Sergei, who was on a mission at space station Mir…, and this is where a friendship between a Cuban and Soviet was born.
This is the story that unfolds in “Sergio y Serguei”, written and directed by Ernesto Daranas, who had directed Los dioses rotos beforehand. Making its debut in Havana’s movie theaters recently, the screenplay was inspired by the story about mechanical engineer Sergei Krikalev, who was on a mission at space station Mir from 1991 until 1992. He was named the “last Soviet citizen” ever because when he returned to his country it had undergone a radical change: it wasn’t the USSR anymore, but the Russian Federation.
This takes place during the time when Cuba was experiencing its Special Period in the ‘90s, after the Socialist Bloc collapsed. Everyone who lived through that time remembers all of the shortages that existed, when public transport came to a standstill and when Chinese bikes were sold which multiplied throughout the city. Never-ending blackouts kept houses in the dark and you could see people sleeping in doorways or out on the street in places like Old Havana, trying to get away from the immense heat. Many people ended up without a job, there weren’t any resources, so people had to resort to making things that were missing on the domestic market.
The isolation of these two people who have had to take on tough situations is reflected in their conversations. Sergei is alone in space, far from his loved ones. Sergio is having financial trouble with his wages as a professor because it isn’t enough for him to support his young daughter and his mother, an old woman who has retired.
Daranas reveals his intelligence by moving away from the rulebook, telling us how the reality of a country changes and how its citizens need to face new challenges in order to survive, using humor and surrealism in true Cuban style.
Sergio is a dreamer who wakes up when his neighbor and friend advises him to let his home become the bodega (where rations are sold) store’s rum distillery, and that his mother (a former cigar roller), get back into the business, but making cigars by herself to sell. Both of these illegal businesses allow him to have to financial peace of mind and to not starve to death.
Censorship appears in many aspects, the control radio hams were subjected to by State Security, with a character who ends up being a funny caricature of extremism, who has an eye on Sergio at all times.
However, our main character plays tricks, dodges him, reporting the arrival of those who left the country for the US in home-made rafts.
The Cuban is also in touch with a US writer who is linked to the CIA. This man was Sergio’s father’s friend and he sent devices and money, to help him out as best he can. However, Sergio only receives the new radio to replace his old valve radio. He never received the money because US dollars were penalized back then, and you could be sent to jail if they were found in your possession.
A movie that moves at a steady pace, it has decent special effects, nice photography and soundtrack. It was a very pleasant movie to watch. Although it isn’t perfect, and I would have left out the voice off narration. Even though I picked up on some small anachronisms, it wasn’t boring at all: it is an ode to a friendship without any ulterior motives, where hope is what prevails.