HAVANA TIMES — Nicanor is worried because the rumor circulating in his neighborhood that the Cuban government is reaching an agreement with an Arab Sheikh to sell Cuba to him. While playing dominoes and drinking rum with some friends from a nearby apartment block, he found out that they were offering 5 billion USD for the island.
“Domino”, the 13th short film from Eduardo del Llano in the Nicanor series, puts his well-known character into the dilemma of not being informed, which the ordinary Cuban experiences on a daily basis, not knowing anything or very little about what is happening in their own country including the business deals that are made or broken with foreign companies.
The discussion about the Arab’s bid becomes full of questions: Will they sell the island empty or with us inside? Will we have to leave Santeria and convert to Islam? If they sell Cuba empty, where will we live? How much would each Cuban get if they shared out the 5 billion USD equally?
A conspiracy theory even raises its head. They are afraid that the CIA’s sinister black hand is behind the Sheikh and his interest in the archipelago. Is this the “enemy’s” new strategy to take over Cuba peacefully, after half a century of fruitless violent attempts?
Like all of Eduardo’s short movies, “Domino” has a message wrapped in humor which makes it easy to digest for all audiences. However, it touches sensitive issues which move the viewer from laughing to sadness non-stop and sometimes even makes the viewer feel both emotions at the same time.
Brilliantly played by the actor Luis Alberto Garcia, Nicanor’s life is so complex just like that of any ordinary Cuban, the ones who have to fight every day to keep a balance between the dignity their souls need to be at peace with themselves and the pragmatism they need to be able to survive.
For some viewers, the lead character could appear to be a “loser”, but for others, including myself, he is an endearing being, an example of the Cuban who never managed to become the “new man”, promoted by the Party, but has become a better human being.
He is the one who gets up from the domino table, outraged and with tears in his eyes, because he doesn’t accept the fact that any billionaire can come and buy his country, while the other domino players back him up with a questionable assortment of phrases from Cuban Independence heroes.
Things reach a climax when they all agree that they should do something and they ask themselves what they can do to stop Cuba from being sold off. After a few seconds of dramatic individual meditation, they all decide to change the subject and continue to play dominoes.
Some of Nicanor’s short movies are unforgettable such as “Mount Rouge”, when he is visited by two security agents who put microphones in his home, or “Tormenta de Ideas”, which shows the dependence that national media has in all aspects on the censorship apparatus.
In his films, Eduardo del Llano manages to bring together some of Cuba’s finest actors, in spite of him making these movies with small budgets – mainly donations from friends – and they don’t rake in any profits after they are released because, although they are very popular, they aren’t commercialized.
Cuban cultural institutions have very little money and plus, Eduardo’s short movies aren’t very well seen in the eyes of some government leaders. Offers from abroad haven’t come in either. Is this because Nicanor has never sought out foreign help to try and resolve Cuba’s problems?
These short movies mark continuity in Cuban film as the great chronicler of a Cuba which almost never appears in the media. A cinema which deals with subjects such as the persecution of homosexuals to the development of a bureaucracy which is both privileged and perverse.
A hundred years from now, nobody will be able to understand the history of the Revolution without taking a look at Cuban film, movies by Tomas Gutierrez Alea (Titon), ICAIC news reels by Santiago Alvares, projects by young filmmakers today as well as Llano’s short movies.
And, nevertheless, Cuban film is languishing today in a limbo between the past and the future, between what it was and what it needs to be in order to survive. It is trapped in the hands of institutions that are incapable of pushing it forward, but who fail to recognize its independence and the maturity of its creators.