So What Is Cuba Like?

Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — Watching the movie Seven Days in Havana, with it seven stories by seven different directors (and with the list led by Benicio del Toro and concluded by Juan Carlos Tabio), serious questions arose in me as to whether Cuba is really like the way I see it and how I’ve experienced it.

My impressions, accumulated over years of watching Cuban films and movies about Cuba, seem increasingly less like the island where I’ve lived since I was born.

In those movies one finds macho men, easy women or obvious whores, twisting in the compulsion of survival, jokes, eroticism and the absurd. It’s as if we had been intoxicated by the gazes of tourists, as if we believe the stereotypes about Cubans that you see in the advertising.

Are we only like that? This same Havana that I’ve traveled so much (across both the geographical and the mental map) is full of nuances, full of intensities of different people – many that are complex and profound. The misery that always appear in the movies, with hints of irony, may be the refuge of unsuspected worlds that I’ve never seen reflected in any film.

Some of this, to be fair, is outlined in the young Marti of Fernando Perez (Marti y el ojo del canario) and it becomes almost palpable in the protagonist of the film Nada by Juan Carlos Cremata, where humanity is lost in the general satire of the film.

The rest, at least from what I’ve seen, confuses me. The dialogues are seldom happy, sometimes over simplified, with superficial characters and inconsistent or implausible scripts.

There are always excesses, jeering and abuses. It’s as if the intention is to flirt with the viewer (or with the foreigner), as if there was no time or resources to look deeper below the instantaneous flash, common gestures, violent (also glorified) sex, extreme surrealism and the political overtones.

A friend said to me, “Cuban films always leave me wanting.” This is even true in the recently released movie Pelicula de Ana (Ana’s Film), which a colleague said should have been called “Laura’s Film” because it’s the leading actress, Laura de la Uz, who makes the film carnal and credible, but only as far as possible.

A young Jose Marti in The Eye of the Canary.

I remember when I found myself thinking that I preferred Sergio in “Memorias del desarrollo” (more fragile within his apparent cynicism), than Sergio Corrieri in the highly awarded “Memorias del subdesarrollo,” by Tomás Gutierrez Alea (Titon). And I regretted that the film by the young Miguel Coyula was not shown in theaters and was not given the same importance as the earlier film.

“Memorias del Desarrollo” is, more than anything, a film about what you don’t usually see in Cuban cinema: what lies behind the myth of emigrating, loneliness (the most unfathomable loneliness, that doesn’t fill presences or attachments), what we see when the hypnotism of material wellbeing disappears, sensual pleasure, and all forms of “freedom” that give us a more open society but also an unequal and off-track.

I know there are circumstantial factors in the deficiencies of Cuban cinema, and censorship (proven or probable) has also done its damage. One cannot create freely if a threat breathes omniscient alongside the creator. Political taboos generate inhibition and this, atrophy.

But the result is that I don’t recognize myself in Cuban films and I don’t recognize myself in those Cubans characters who act (sometimes even my friends) when in front of a tourist.

Someone told me: “I decided to not watch any more Cuban movies. I don’t want to keep on being disappointed.”

I admit that I couldn’t respond. There was an awkward silence until I mentally reproached myself because I kept insisting on seeing Cuban films.

After watching Seven Days in Havana, I wondered why I ever expect to see Cubans represented as sufficiently human for them to look like what I’ve known here in Havana all my life.

Beings who are more than macho men, more than sexual creatures, more than jokesters, more than potential emigrants, more than animals preoccupied with survival.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

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3 thoughts on “So What Is Cuba Like?

  • Veronica writes Cubans “are more than macho men, more than sexual creatures, more than jokesters, more than potential emigrants, more than animals preoccupied with survival”. Really? While intellectually I am inclined to agree with her, the truth is a society is reflected in what it values. Cuban society does not appear to value its scientists, engineers, dentists or architects. If they did, these valuable professionals would not be forced to sell clothes, cigars or their bodies just to make ends meet while the jinetera, dancer or santeria priests can afford to vacation in Varadero. If Cubans change their values, how the world sees Cuba will change as well.

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