HAVANA TIMES — I have just seen a documentary that should be shown on Cuban television during prime time. It would be a good indication that we are trying to “change everything that should be changed”, as Fidel Castro said some time ago.
Produced by Matraka Producciones, Al final del camino (“At the End of the Road”), based on an original idea of Diddier Santos’, written by Yaima Pardo and directed by the two, addresses the delicate issue of old age in Cuba.
The film explores the lives of the generations who devoted their entire lives to a dream and today face a reality well beyond their physicial, psychological and – most importantly – financial reach.
Without cowardly beating around the bush or resorting to double meanings, the documentary captures the daily lives of these withered beings who reflect on their situation and even dream up solutions to their problems – with astonishment, naivety or devoid of hope.
The film does not resort to any cheap, sentimentalist tricks: it shows us what’s there, a simple and at times crushing truth, old people who are victims of lovelessness and loneliness, who are vulnerable and even at risk of ending up on the street. It documents the day to day existence of generations who awoke in the middle of their fall from grace and do not know, cannot stop the process.
In the documentary, one hears phrases such as:
“I am alive thanks to the grace of God.”
“I feel mistreated by my own family.”
“We have material problems, but we also have moral problems. You can’t stow away people (at old people’s homes) like you do furniture…”
Everyone speaks: government officials responsible for addressing such cases (to which they are not indifferent), experts who assess goals, obstacles and shortages, without beating around the bush or going off on tangents. Questions arise: what can one do with a pension? What can one do with the ration booklet? What good is the country’s Social Security system?
At one point, we hear a fragment of a speech by Fidel Castro, who says: “(…) today, and, more importantly, tomorrow, may each citizen live on the fruits of his work and on their pension.”
The speech isn’t used in a scathing manner. It is deployed as a concrete and necessary commentary. The documentary seeks to identify who’s responsible for the present state of affairs, aware that these problems are plain to see and that they become more serious every day.
In the film, we see old people’s homes whose facilities are virtually uninhabitable, a somber spectacle of overcrowding, as well as charitable projects such as Caritas and others sponsored by the city historian, Eusebio Leal, offering services that only the middle class can afford. We see what enormous difference a bit of dignity makes.
Some of the individuals heading the country’s programs for the elderly aren’t exactly young. Perhaps working with Cuba’s old is a way of looking in the mirror, looking to that long “stretch of road on a pension,” to the uncertainty that will also be their lot – and ours.
Something I thought was significant is that those interviewed, more than draw attention to themselves or try and justify their condition, want to do something. Everyone is tired of mere words.
As a demographer says near the end of the film: “(…) the population has to become more proactive. We can’t be passive about this and wait for something to happen all by itself. Young people, the elderly must participate more actively in the creation of policies that have an impact on their lives. They can’t simply be the object of these policies, they must also be their agents.”
I believe many of us can agree with this. The question is: when and how do we start?
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