HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 17 – Long lines were everywhere during this past Havana Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema. Though Cuban movies attracted large audiences, Lester Hamlet’s Casa Vieja (Old House) was a magnet that drew the young and not-so-young alike. In fact, more than a month later it is still packing in crowds in Havana’s premiere cinemas. Why is this happening?
In the film, Esteban returns home due to his father’s illness, which implies that the son has to face the same problems that he had run into 14 years earlier, when he left. Existential conflicts come back to life because very little has changed since his departure. The family and other characters are affected by the same issues: ideology, love, intransigence, sexuality, selfishness and distance.
Based on the play by Abelardo Estorino that reflects the early years of the Cuban Revolution, the movie re-contextualizes the plot, bringing it up to present times. This demonstrates to us that emotions aren’t tied to certain epochs, and especially that they follow us and afflict us with the same problems, though many people want to continue addressing them with the same solutions.
In the movie, Esteban (Yadier Fernandez) doesn’t return from Havana, but from Barcelona; and Diego (Alberto Pujol), the oldest brother, is a driver for someone influential, someone who can direct the lives of others – with all that this entails.
In the Santa Fe neighborhood is a wooden house — a funeral parlor— which is enough to represent a dead town where time seems to be asleep. Only Flora (Isabel Santos) displays life; she wants to transform things and break the routine. The sea serves as an escape valve, a symbol of freedom, like an old friend who we can tell our troubles, desires and our frustrations.
Paying homage to the theater, the film is divided in acts and has an intermission. At the beginning emphasis is placed on the past: memories, nostalgia, reunions and some reproaches. But the present comes piercing in, like the light through the crevices of the wood clapboards of the house, as the main character gradually acquires confidence in himself. Esteban decides to speak about his torments. He wants to identify who it is and say how he wants to be respected. He wants to face his brother.
In the dark theater, through their comments one could see how the audience established a parallel between the character and real Cuban youth, who are fed up with the country’s spiritual, economic, social and political stagnation.
This was palpable when Esteban yells at us that we are human beings, not statues, and that we shouldn’t act like gods manipulating others. It was especially compelling when he inspired us to lose our fear: “We’re afraid of breaking the rules and being left without anything. But what does it matter to be left without anything if what we possess doesn’t work.”
He finally leaves again. The house (the family or the country) didn’t welcome him with love. It didn’t respect his as a human being. It still doesn’t accept his sexual identity; it doesn’t advance in step with time, on the contrary, it remains paralyzed with dogmas. It grows drowsy as if a spell had been cast on it.
Yes, we do live in a very old house. It’s necessary to renovate it, to wake it up. But how are we going to do that if we distance ourselves from it?