“Havanastation”: A Game or Reality?

By Irina Echarry, Photos: Caridad

Mayito and Carlos from the film Habanastation.

HAVANA TIMES, July 23 — Lately the Chaplin Cinema in the Cuban capital has been welcoming large and varied audiences. Several generations are converging in line to buy tickets as “Habanastation,” the first feature film by Ian Padron, has awoken people’s curiosity.

The initial images allow us to peer into the life of Mayito in the upscale neighborhood of Miramar. He is a very proper boy who lives in an environment of luxury, few tensions and in the perfect family. Later enters Carlos, a kid caught up in the most difficulties and imperfections possible.

Studying in the same classroom, the two boys are unaware of each other as their worlds are so different. However, in a twist of fate they run into each other outside of school, exchange experiences and accept one another just as they are.

For many Cubans it is important that we have a film speaking openly about the different social classes that coexist in Cuba. This movie shows two of those classes (though we know there are more), using well defined stereotypes, which derives into caricature.

On the one hand there are the relatively wealthy Havanans of Miramar, alienated with their material wealth, encapsulated in technology, far from the experiences of ordinary people. They don’t know how to fight, accustomed to solving everything with money, ignorant of “life in the street” and without friends.

On the other hand, in the poor quarter of La Tinta — which looks almost like a Brazilian favela — one can find a little bit of everything within three or four blocks: dominos, caldosa (cauldrons of soup), blacks, rum, good friends, bembe (santeria gatherings), gangs, ignorance of technology, guys just released from jail, babalao priests and some very creative people.

Although it’s true that the film doesn’t tell us who’s better, or in which neighborhood better values are formed, it does symbolically contrast video games (for which one must have material resources) with freedom, courage and the enjoyment of “natural games” (ones requiring virtually no recourses).

The audience enjoys being carried along with the story as it is told through comical and more dramatic moments with good photography and convincing performances.

In today’s Cuba the two extremes can exist, but we can also find (among other things) that in a neighborhood like La Tinta anyone having a Playstation or something more sophisticated while in Miramar there are people who have served prison time for all kinds of reasons.

Havana's Charles Chaplin Theater

This is because there’s not just one Cuba, nor only two – there are many Cubas. Some escape our experiences, others we slam into head-on.

Some high points seem to make the audience reflect. In the film, children (young ones still in elementary school) need to save up 200 pesos if they want to get their Playstation fixed. So, they decide to “nickel and dime,” meaning go to work to earn it. They begin collecting and selling bottles, cleaning yards and pumping air into bicycle tires.

When the movie was over comments could be heard about the delicate subject of showing Cuban children working (although these were in activities that were not dangerous or requiring much effort) when around the world people are demanding an end to such situations.

However other people thought that such work (when it’s not abusive) can promote a young person’s development, something that turns them into good people.

Others discussed whether the movie’s end (where the boy from Miramar gives his Playstation to the kid from La Timba) was a good action or a good symbol when the rest of the movie shows how outdoor games stimulate the imagination, companionship and personal freedom.

“Habanastation,” with its contemporary vision of Cuban life (despite the stereotypes) is a song to friendship, acceptance of others and respect. Although the children live in different worlds they don’t display poor behavior toward others; and they interact, play, communicate and learn from each other.

What there’s no doubt about is that all of us have something to teach.

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2 thoughts on ““Havanastation”: A Game or Reality?

  • August 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Going back as far as DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT (1966) , Cuban cinema has had the tradition of making fun of their problems via satire on the big screen. This continues up to the present. Anyone interested in the history of Cuban movies should consult Michael Channan’s magisterial CUBAN CINEMA.

    B. Ruby Rich’s 1979 Jump Cut magazine comment on Death of a Bureaucrat:

    And, like other Cuban films, this one is already available for purchase on the streets of Cuba in bootleg DVD versions, for 1 CUC (VCD) or 2 CUC (DVD).

  • July 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    “Bembé” doesnt refer to “bemba” or gossip but to an AfroCuban santería meeting, a religious dancing and spiritual celebration.

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