By Veronica Vega
HAVANA TIMES – I feel like, lately, I’ve only been writing about our country’s constant demise. I talk to fellow Cubans, living on and off the island, and I realize that the same is happening to them.
We know that destruction is an inevitable part of this world of dialectics. Of life. Bodies change: we get old, friends follow their own paths, just like our children do. Our understanding of existence and society change.
But we’ve experienced a much more violent process of destruction, in some way or another. The act of destroying something isn’t really natural in essence. People are forced to give up on projects.
From something simple like buying new clothes, a piece of furniture, to the need of doing up their home or buying a house. Not to mention cultural projects, like the so many I have seen come to life and then perish, not exactly because their creators or consumers wanted them to.
A few days ago, I watched a documentary that really drove this reflection home. It’s called “Mujer que espera” (The Woman who Waits), which was made in 2004, and is available on YouTube for free. It’s an interview with actress Isabel Santos.
I first saw her in a soap opera, back in the ‘80s. I remember that she really caught my attention, with her personality that swings from candour to strength. As well as for her undeniable ability to convince, with every one of her performances.
Her face soon became very popular on the Cuban big screen, movies made with more heart than resources, and always under political censorship’s suspicious eye.
In the documentary, the actress recounts memories from her childhood, in a small town lost in Camaguey where they didn’t have electricity, Her first contact with the film industry came thanks to a traveling movie screening team, which was for adults and children.
Then, there are fragments from some of her movies, which all of my generation have seen and enjoyed, with laughter or tears, in the same process of hoping and believing, of building a country, even if it were only in our minds.
Isabel Santos is a captivating woman, for her transparent and honest portrayal on the screen. It’s like any distance between her and the viewer disappears, as a character, or as a person.
So, for somebody like me, who is more or less her age, reliving this Cuba was inevitable. A Cuba we shared with the fury and arrogance of our youth, convinced that this dream was valid.
The entire population waited for Cuban movies and the Havana Film Festival with great anticipation, when we would sit at the table with foreign guests, to show them our version of reality, and to win awards. I remember that pride, that shared sense of belonging.
We were all so happy watching her win the Coral Award for her performance in “Clandestinos”, a movie which convinced us yet again of the usefulness of the Revolution, of the sacrifice of so many young Cubans who were tortured or murdered at the hands of the repressive apparatus at the time.
We still didn’t know that the Revolution stays in power through the same means, but this control is better disguised, it’s more subtle and efficient.
I don’t know why but we forgive actors for everything, even when they form part of this set-up that keeps us in a hypnotic state, in a dual society, where Cuban reality is absent on the screen in spite of nods at machismo, poverty, prostitution, the exodus or even the fact that somebody leaves the island just to escape harassment from State State Security (like in “Regreso a Itaca” / “Going back to Ithaca”, based on a script written by Leonardo Padura.
If we take a quick look at post-’59 Cuban film, the Revolution is always the protagonist. The social environment weighs more than the individual and, as a result, is confined (and condemned) to specific circumstances.
It’s a shame because it will be the only art from a historic moment and its obsessions, while the real protagonists (the Cuban people) really fought hard to form part of this world, and its material and social progress.
Reality continues to depict Cubans’ real desperation in this race – where we were and we are still a long way away – not Cuban film. Like the case of three young protagonists from the movie “Una noche” by British director Lucy Mulloy, who went and applied for asylum in the US when they went as guests to a festival in New York, which the movie was competing in.
This is the real transcendence of art, when reality leaves the screen (the story of three young Cubans who want to emigrate) to prove, in practice, that we are in a continuous and dangerous process of destruction.
In her own words in “Mujer que espera”, Santos is overcome with emotion when she talks about this feeling of being alone because she doesn’t live with her family (her only son emigrated when he was very young), about absent friends, because we are living this ebb and flow of the tide which isn’t progress, but exhaustion… we fight to keep things in harmony in this raft/country, with the trodden hope of getting somewhere.
This hope is being recycled, generation after generation, so much so that 20-year-olds today want to define Cuban exiles as a phenomenon of their generation, ignoring the fact that my parents and grandparents experienced the exact same thing.
“Mujer que espera” tries to lift the mood at the end with a kind of forced optimism, like somebody who bets on the future and kills the present. However, reality has disproved this yet again, because we know that the majority of these actors who we have watched, have also emigrated, or work outside the island.
Their audience is happy when they see them in a foreign soap opera, like Cubans in Miami get happy when a singer from Cuba comes to visit this city, and in spite of political tensions, most of them forgive the fact that they have never spoken out for our truth, so that they can continue to uphold the shreds of an art, film, country that slowly destroys us.