HAVANA TIMES — A special showing of Pablo, a film by Yosmani Acosta, last week at the Pavilion Cuba, as part of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.
Pablo is a provocative film that questions Cuban life by approaching a theme seldom dealt with in cinematography here on the island: child abuse.
Despite having planned a single showing, the workers at Pavilion Cuba’s theater added a second showing since a large number of unhappy folks were unable to get in to the first. But those who were able to obtain a seat found themselves captivated from the very first images.
One viewer, 58-year-old Ana Margarita, commented: “I thought the story was well told, especially on an emotional level. We were able to see a child who’s forced to work, with people teaching him to pickpocket to support himself. You watch as he gets on and off buses wearing his elementary school uniform and then he comes home with a bunch of wallets in his backpack. It was very powerful, but it has to be pure fiction. I don’t think things like that happen in Cuba, because if they did measures would be taken immediately.”
In the film, Pablo loses his mother in an accident while she’s arguing with his father. Later he loses his grandmother who raised him with love and affection. Then he has to go live with the father, an unscrupulous and unpleasant person who hits if the boy if he doesn’t do what he wants.
From day one the man lays down his conditions: “Starting tomorrow you’re going to have to hit the streets and bring in some cash, because in this house the person who doesn’t hustle doesn’t eat.”
The life of the child life is turned upside-down as he now lives in a hostile world where he has to adapt or perish. The ending creates uncertainty among the audience; everyone has to come to their own conclusion.
Another viewer, a teenager named Yeniel, said: “I thought the film had movement, and that’s important, because it doesn’t let you get bored. On the contrary, it makes you think. I myself was left with doubts at the end. I didn’t know if the boy killed the father or if he ran off with the wallets to avoid being caught with evidence in the house. If that were the case, one would have to ask themselves whether a child would cover up for such a bad father. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s true that a father is someone who’s really important, but here it’s not the case. The father is even the one who forces the boy to steal the woman’s purse, which is why she got into an the accident and died. I don’t think the kid was covering up for the father, because he wasn’t brought up like that; his grandmother and his mother taught him different values.”
The film is based on the script by Yoel Ortega that was won an award in 2009 at the Haciendo Cine (Making Movies) section of the 8th Annual Festival of Young Filmmakers, which later benefited from the collaboration between Luisa Alejo and the director.
Shot in Camagüey Province — which brought something different to its realization — Pablo becomes a kind of social critique as it shows the violence and authoritarianism that children are subjected to in schools and homes.
The despotic and violent manner of the classroom teacher is a step forward in our cinema, where the educator is always portrayed with a sacred and magnanimous connotation, though the reality that many of us experience at school is sometimes quite different.
Though the film makes an effort, it doesn’t escape the usual stereotypes: the teacher receives less than convincing sermons from the other teachers in school meetings, and the evil father is of course black and a criminal.
Although the mother-in-law says “it’s not a question of skin color, but a question of the soul,” the central theme becomes diluted when the father (with his antics) steals the show. This is a shame because abuse and authoritarianism are the daily bread in the education of children, often in an unconscious fashion (since it’s now incorporated into the system). It would have been good to see that vision reflected.
Domestic and school violence have reached unimaginable proportions in the world — including here in Cuba to some extent — as this can be generated by any human being, be they a criminal or a seemingly model professional.
One’s profession, their trade or how they earn a living shouldn’t be decisive, because showing one sole aspect of the problem — in this case the most common one — serves only to make invisible the other ones that are less known but equally dangerous.
After hearing Pablo say “we each have an obligation to decide our path, whether it’s with those who are good or with the others,” the audience broke out in an extended applause. Among the merits of Pablo is that interaction with the viewer; it establishes a dialogue.
The film — which was very well done and had spectacular audio — leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth because it has a strong and shocking story, though it suffers from the naive focus on “good vs. bad” when we humans usually have a whole range of nuances.