Viva Cuba Libre for Marti & Fernando

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Fernando Perez and his young Jose Marti.

Fernando Perez is one of the two great film directors our island has produced.  I know that on one hand that may seem like an exaggeration; but on the other, newspapers here don’t lend themselves to discussing such matters.  In any case, I’ll attempt to do that and assume the risk.

As I was saying, Fernando Perez along with Tomas Gutierrez Alea are the two sole stars who can be said to give off their own light in the paradise of Cuban film.

The latter won an Oscar nomination for the “Best Foreign Film” with his Strawberry and Chocolate, and in doing so he reached the pinnacle in the career of a great film artist.

As for Perez, I’m not familiar with his curriculum vitae, but I do know that his audiovisual language is refreshing, experimental, and soars in poetic and universal flight.  But most of all it has a less than indulgent language, free of simplistic solutions.  This was demonstrated in his Suite Havana and other films, such as his recently premiered Jose Marti (I don’t remember the rest).

Jose Marti (for those who wish to know Cuba beyond its beaches) is our national hero, a great poet, the father the Latin American literary modernism and was an active fighter in the independence of Cuba from Spanish colonialism (in the 19th century).

Though he spent most of his life in exile, no one has thought about Cuba with such depth.  He died at the age of forty two and wrote about all that one could ever write about.  Clearly this is an ABC description, and those who want to deepen their understanding of this figure so do on their own.

There remains only for me to say that all of us Cubans —since the middle of the past century, when his figure was rediscovered— have grown up with the conviction that he is an unachievable model…that we have another God in the heavens and sky.

Because of all this, it must it be difficult for many people to digest the Marti of Fernando Perez. The film shows a Marti is still an adolescent, whose life is recounted and imagined based on letters, a biography written in 1940 and so many other sources relating to this illustrious Cuban thinker.  In addition, we have what is known by historians about Marti and what has been passed from mouth to mouth, without anything having been written in this respect.

For those of us who suffer the “marble syndrome,” or who engage in the petrifaction of our heroes by transforming them into empty statues, we find ourselves face to face with a Marti who masturbates, who disregards the economic problems of his family, who lives off the charity of his good friends to pursue his dreams.

We collide head on with discourses on democracy, freedom of speech and identity – all with a certain degree of contemporariness.  However, for anyone who knows the slightest bit about the history of Cuba, they will know that through this (the events portrayed take place in the 19th century) it is evident that we haven’t evolved a whole lot.

In the end, Marti is shown as a man of flesh and blood, brought alive in a performance that is fresh and unknown to the Cuban screen, along with other actors of proven experience and a work of art that should be emulated.

A city of Havana is reconstructed for us, but without glittery makeup; we see its unpaved streets and feel the humid air eating away at each one of its walls, a city of wheeling and dealings, violence, dirt, poverty and indigence.

That evening I went to the cinema I had a certain amount of skepticism (I have to admit).  I gave myself the luxury of arriving a few minutes before the movie started, convinced we would be the only two spectators there.  Even then I was sure I was going to get a good dose of bla bla political rhetoric.  To my amazement, though, the only thing we were presented with was the mastery of the director.  And by the way, we almost couldn’t find seats.

I don’t care what one might think about Perez as a person, what I found out through his work was that his commitment to his audience is sincere.  His joint productions with Spain (I think all his films have been like that) have been a good bit more than decorous.  I don’t feel that he has sold himself out for a handful of gold, like others who have passed this way before.

And what can I say about his indulgence in official discourse?  He demonstrated that to be Cuban, talking about the homeland and heroes, transcends any ideological shortsightedness.

I don’t believe I’m the only one who ended up with this impression. The stillness in which the audience remained when the film ended said it all.  I suspect that there were many of us who questioned our commitment, always deferred, along with the future of the island.  I’m still not cured of the desire to scream Viva Cuba Libre where I can be heard.