The Companion: Not Just Friendship and Aids

By Irina Pino

El Acompañante Pavel Giroud
From the Cuban film “El Acompañante” (The companion) by Pavel Giroud.

HAVANA TIMES — The friendship between a boxer and a former soldier, within the context of the “Los Cocos” sanitarium, an institution where they kept every case of HIV and seropositives in confinement, in Cuba in the ‘80s is the setting for of film “El Acompañante” (The Companion).

Directed by Pavel Giroud, the movie was first screened during the last Latin American Film Festival in 2015, an event which is celebrated in Havana every December. In recent weeks it is now being shown to a larger audience in Cuban theaters.

The film has already won many international awards, among them, the award for Best Script at the Havana Film Festival in New York, and the Audience award in Spain and France.  It is now serving to refreshing the Cuban people’s memory on the subject of this disease, even though, what matters most in the film is the emotional ties created between the film’s characters.

Just before it starts, a poster is shown where the measure of sending people to this institution is explained, and why it was done. It’s a way of asking for the viewer’s permission, to tell the story.

The script was very interesting because it is set at a time when a search-and-detention campaign had been launched of all of those infected with the virus, the chains of infection, to prevent it spreading on a large scale; however, it instilled fear among the Cuban people.

At one point, the young man talks about how he was infected and how he didn’t regret it, in spite of knowing that his fate was now death. And so the mechanism of melodrama is activated…, there is no regret or hate, there are very few cases where people conform themselves to the disgrace that has fallen upon them for having been irresponsible.

The film is a melodrama, of course, and that isn’t a bad thing though; melodramas are necessary because their characters improve themselves, they suffer change. The thing is, though, that its subplots aren’t developed enough, they don’t go into the sick man’s relationship with his family, there are just snippets: a loving mother and a stubborn father (military officer) without a hint of sensitivity, who doesn’t give into or show love or compassion to his son, casting him aside as if he didn’t exist. These are key points that appear, a second reading, to tell you how he got the virus, and how he hid it.

The actors, Armando Miguel Gomez and Yotuel Romero, play their characters very well and are believable, the role of villain, acted out by Jazz Vila, is the classic archetype of evil, and there are really people out there like this, people with a surprising amount of cynicism and double standards.

It has pleasant streaks of humor, a soundtrack which makes us nostalgic, however, more than half way into the film, it feels like you’re watching a Hollywood movie, where all of the events are foreseeable.

I think the script could have been developed a little further. I was left wanting to know more about the story of the dancer – who leaves us enshrouded in mystery, nevertheless, we appreciate Pavel Giroud’s intention to bring a breath of fresh air to Cuba film, which has become saturated recently with marginalization and poverty.

Here, we don’t only see a tribute to the love between friends, but it shines a light on other issues to reflect upon