What is a Youth?

Veronica Vega


HAVANA TIMES – When I wrote the series of articles called “The advantages of being poor”, I mentioned what it meant to us in the 70s to find that a favorite film had by chance been included in the TV line-up or was showing at the movie theater.

The impossibility of copying it, even in a video cassette, caused us to live the experience with avid intensity: We knew so well the value of the ephemeral!

But today I want to talk about what it means after long years of fishing to finally obtain that same movie in impeccable digital format, with the freedom to repeat any scene you choose, and with radiant colors beyond our wildest dreams in those days of Russian television sets.

That privilege was finally mine (!) with Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”: produced in 1968, first seen in Cuba 10 years later, and justly considered an unparalleled cinematic rendition of Shakespeare’s play.

After delighting in the exquisite photography and costumes (both won Oscars), the actors’ beauty, the realism of the language and movements, I couldn’t help but think about how time has spared this film so spotless in its vitality, and at the same time how the years have added truth to the meaning of the popular theme song, which – with the music of Nino Rota – forms a dramatic pillar of the story.

This consummation unfolds through the symbolic value of the events that unfold around the singer; the meeting that this propitiates, and the actions that are in turn unleashed; the irony of the lyrics themselves that reflect in synchronized choreography the shades of human nature that the circle of listeners in turn expound on; and through the manner in which the words have proven true, in the course of the film, and beyond in the lives of the actors and spectators.

What is a youth:
impetuous fire,
what is a maid:
ice and desire.
The world wags on…

The words remind us of the transient nature of existence and the even more ferocious evanescence of each new generation that, like the preceding ones, transforms their passion into anger, confusion, ingenuity, boastfulness. The hypnotic pull of each one’s turn in the brief staging of what we call “the world”. This, and not the oft-repeated premise of how hatred blocks true love, is – in my eyes – the theme of the popular work.


Romeo himself, who finds in Juliet the realization of a love that he had mistakenly thought he would find in another girl, discovers the uselessness of that violence in the crypt where his wife lies (not dead but in a cataleptic state). He looks at Tybalt’s corpse and expresses that the same hand that caused his death, as retribution, will kill the one who killed him.

Death by death, youth by youth, dream by dream; all is leveled by the devastating power of cosmic life, through the external and unstoppable rush of events.

It’s not, then, a denunciation of violence impeding love, but of the hallucination that is any attempt at transcendence in this game, as Mercurio says so well when he turns his own existential pain into a joke: “(I dreamt) that dreamers often lie.”

Where are we going, while the evil Queen Mab, in the words of Mercurio (John McEnery) has fun by tangling up the hair of the sleepers, infecting the lips that aspire to kisses, squeezing the legs of the young girls who are dreaming of carnal pleasures? We forget that in the end, it’s a dream “engendered by vain fantasy, insubstantial and inconstant as the air.”

And just as the dream of these adolescents comes to an abrupt end, to the consternation of their family members who discover the measureless price of hatred, so did the dream end for Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, the actors who played the mythical lovers. He, British, she born in Argentina but educated in England, both with factions that seemed to have come right out of a renaissance painting, gave life to this first love that each era clothes with a new identity and new hopes.

Where is their youth today? And their dreams? Both received Golden Globe awards as promising youth, but her career bogged down in films that never transcended the mediocre and he soon abandoned the celluloid adventure.

I don’t mean to say, of course, that this made their lives less valuable. I trust in anonymity more than in fame, although they could both be different sides of a single mask: that of queen Mab, who activates our delirium and sharpens our tastes only to end in distaste for the bile at the end of the honey; the extenuation at the end of the force; the death at the end of the useless pursuit of illusions:

…”death will comes soon to hush us along
Sweeter than honey and bitter as gall
love is a pastime that never will pall
Sweeter than honey and bitter as gall
Cupid he rules us all”.

Round and round in the carousel of emotions and desires, Cupid gets us all into the game. But then the credits run, the music ends, and I’m left with the sensation that something is missing. I think insistently: “That’s not all.”

The dilemma of Mercurio, of Hamlet…of Shakespeare: the pursuit of something more intangible than love, more volatile. Centuries later the impressionists took up this search again, with furor, trying to trap a visual effect: “an illusion” of light and color before the next change.

That “pause of light”, like youth, is a symbol of the fact that we exist in constant motion. And we suffer because we only see the reflection, but some way or another we know that only a (still invisible) permanence could sustain all the changes.

From there we came and to there we are going.

One thought on “What is a Youth?

  • ¡Felicitaciones! Excelente artículo. Me parece genial tu interpretación sobre el sentido de la película y la conmovedora tragedia shakespeareana.

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