Isbel Diaz Torres
The latest Cuban movie has provided a bit of relief to the relatively wealthy on the island. When they have a twinge of conscience, they now know that all they have to do is give a Playstation to some poor kid.
The new film “Habanastation,” by Ian Padron, is skyrocketing to success in the Cuban capital, and I’m sure it will do the same across the country and even better when it takes off for international theaters. The story doesn’t offer a sweetened version of reality; rather, it exposes several of the contradictions that mark the island’s present, accomplishing this in a sincere and direct manner.
In the promotional talks that its director has been giving over this past week at the Charlie Chaplin Cinema, it was revealed that the two child protagonists embody Ian Padron himself and an unknown Carlos Roque, a one-time resident of the marginal Timba neighborhood.
In the real life, while the father of Ian was the famous Juan Padron (the producer and author of the cartoon character Elpido Valdes), and the now-director used to be driven to grade school in a car, Carlos was just a poor boy who lived in a depressed district in Havana.
Contradictions between a rich kid and a poor one in socialist Cuba serve to paint an interesting picture. The scandalous privileges of certain small social groups have always bothered people who are poor but cultivated in a deep sense of social justice.
So what’s the problem? Don’t we want critical cinema?
One of the first things that bothered me was that a successful jazz musician was chosen to embody the rich father. Everyone knows that privileged people in Cuba are musicians and athletes. The debates over high-jumper Sotomayor’s car or the homes of the musicians in the group Los Van Van are now solid elements of urban legend.
Of course these reflect unjust inequalities, but people tolerate them. What they don’t tolerate are privileges, the whispered secrets about the military aristocracy of the island, for example some senior officials of the Cuban government or former military officers who are transformed into potbellied businessmen of the tourism industry. Showing such a situation would have in fact been daring, even courageous.
But in the end, it wasn’t my movie. It’s necessary to respect the idea of its creators, which wasn’t so serious.
The shifts in the film lead the rich boy to the poor neighborhood, where he recognizes a reality completely alien to him. By the way, not only was it discovered by him, but many spectators at the Chaplin Cinema were also surprised that Cubans survive under such conditions. Sometimes these things make me wonder where the hell some of these people live.
Carlitos, the counterpart of the well-to-do and patriotic Young Pioneer, is an uncontrollable black boy who gets in fights at school and doesn’t participate in May Day parades. He has to get the gas for the kitchen where he lives because his father’s in jail and his mother’s dead.
I have to admit that I loved the depiction of that character. He conveyed that hardness and dignity that the work required. The controversial Silvio Rodriguez once said: “Having is not a sign of evil / but nor is not having proof / of what accompanies virtue; / but the one who is born well off, / obtaining what they yearn / doesn’t have to give up their health.”
The nobility of Carlitos is moving, as is his scorn for those “daddy’s little kids.” He has never played with a Playstation, and his childhood dream is to own a “colonel” (a large kite). For this he collects, cleans and sells glass bottles. “It takes about 300 bottles to buy a colonel,” he said, “and I still need to collect a bunch of them.”
The plot is not at all difficult to imagine. The story deals with the human transformation of the rich boy, who’s able to overcome his selfishness in one day thanks to the poor boy’s ethical influences.
That wouldn’t be so bad if the story didn’t also castrate the poor kid’s rage. The film calls for a mutual tolerance that paralyzes the destitute character, while the privileged one continues his economic ascent and his successful social career.
In a discussion after the movie, a young psychology student — moved by the beauty of the movie — said with total conviction: “Despite class differences, harmony can prevail.”
What a crock of $#!^. Tremendous work has been exerted by other Cuban artists to be able to criticize those differences, and now when these creators speak out, it’s to acknowledge the resigned acceptance of such disparities. It’s the naturalization of injustice.
To top it all off, Ian Padron responded by saying, “There are many ways for a child to be happy,” which is true within discourse for respect of differences, but completely paralyzing in the arena of the struggles around demands for social justice.
The two children become friends and life goes on — “happily ever after” — to the delight of the whole theater. In this way the rich boy adds spiritual values of friendship, selflessness, solidarity and courage to his material wealth.
And the poor kid? This little guy gets a Playstation 3 – along with the certainty that the rich are great people.