By Osmel Almaguer
Yesterday, after leaving work, I met up with my friend Jorge to watch the new Cuban movie that just opened. Titled Ciudad en roja (City in red), it pays homage somewhat to the novel Bertillón 166, by Jose Soler Puig, which deals with revolutionary activities in the city of Santiago de Cuba in the middle of the Batista dictatorship.
Batista was the most ruthless tyrant that we had to endure during the “pseudo-republic” as a US colony. He came to power on three occasions, with his government almost always having been based on a previous coup d’etat. Only the bloody Gerardo Machado, who governed during the world depression of the late 1920s and early ‘30s, was comparable to Batista. The dictator, after having previously been only a sergeant, was able to suddenly rocket to the rank of general thanks to one of his famous coups.
This movie, directed by newcomer Rebeca Chavez, benefits from excellent photography and atmosphere, as well as a rapid flow of events that endow the film with great intensity. From my seat, I could not but feel the climate of tension grip my stomach. The film presents an epoch in which even talking about politics put one at odds with the regime, which had spread a veil of terror and unpredictability across the country; anyone could be shot down for any reason.
If I couldn’t identify more with this film, it was because of the obvious gaps in the script. The weaknesses in the storyline couldn’t be saved even by the good acting. I was unable to discern a leading character, which is not necessarily a must; however, in this case-being centered in a swirling conflict and involving the psyches of a host of characters-it constituted an obstacle. The on screen result is a movie with good rhythm, but one in which the ill-structured plot leaves a vacuum by the time the curtain closes.
I believe that the objective of this film is to “revive,” in the memory of the younger generation, that era of violence and desperation. It aims to give a historical vision of our evolution, that’s to say, to make it known where we’ve come from and why we are the way we are.
The movie concludes with the execution of the chief of police, the sadist who was responsible for a slew of atrocities committed. The representation stands in marked contrast to current reality. When leaving the cinema, I could breathe the fresh air, and I was certainly not harassed by a single police officer. I’m quite lucky, in fact, to have been born on this island and have lived in this era.
We had our Franco, like Spain; our Trujillo, like the Dominican Republic; and our Pinochet, suffered by Chilean people. This movie presents the era of Ciudad en rojo, whose red pigment flowed with the socialist ideas of the people, and with the blood that would spill until after 1959.