The Human Thing

Chijona’s New Film: Lack of Originality All Around

Irina Pino

From "La cosa humana" (The Human Thing)
From “La cosa humana” (The Human Thing)

HAVANA TIMES — La cosa humana (“The Human Thing”), a film by Gerardo Chijona, the director of Adorables mentiras (“Adorable Lies”), a film that leveled strong criticisms at Cuban double standards in the 1990s, has just been released in Havana’s theaters. This new comedy seeks to pay tribute to such mafia films as Coppola’s The Godfather and the US television series The Sopranos, where violence is the best means people find to solve conflicts.

The plot presents us with two worlds: one of crime, led by a Cuban godfather played by Enrique Molina (who calls himself a businessman and follows a philosophy that justifies crime), an enlightened mafia boss who is always quoting works of literature to offer edifying lessons, but who has no scruples when it comes to ordering an act of torture. He commands two young thieves (Hector Medina and Carlos Enrique Almirante), who live in fear of him and carry out all the tasks he gives them.

At the other end is the literary world, where an established writer (played by Vladimir Cruz) is no longer capable of writing a successful book and makes a living offering literary workshops in prison. His marriage is also going through a crisis.

The action begins when the small-time thieves break into the writer’s house and steal his laptop, along with a manuscript inside his wife’s purse (the one, handwritten copy he has). One of them, who has an inclination for literature sees an opportunity to win a literary contest by plagiarizing the work.

The film has a number of ridiculous characters, such as Shatila, a young police woman who writes terrible poems and seduces the writer. We could interpret this as the suggestion that police officers are incapable of understanding literature and are inherently stupid. The young woman ties the writer to the bed and sodomizes him, for she believes “pain is necessary” and will help him in his creative work.

This odd couple spends the film conversing through poetic fragments, something we already saw in the Argentinean feature El lado oscuro del corazon (“The Dark Side of the Heart”), an idea that has no power here because of how trivial the love story is. The writer is portrayed as a stereotypical hack lacking in humanity (a writer does not speak the way he or she writes).

The literary contests are presented as rigged proceedings, where actor Osvaldo Doimeadios plays the president of the jury whom the writer seeks to bribe, inviting him to give him the award so they can share the prize (and he can use the money to overcome some of his financial problems).

All these different episodes aim to make us laugh and think, but their attempt at Woody Allen-styled high-brow comedy, coupled with movie and literary references, misfires: the script is weak, the actors express ideas with blatant falsity and one breathes poor direction all around.

The tempo is too slow, the photography is far from spectacular and we are presented with scenes that add nothing to the plot. The end result is a hollow comedy to be added to the long list of terrible Cuban films.

Drawing from the works of others in the search of originality is nothing new in cinema, but what we have here is the absence of art. Chijona is naked here.