“Off the page and onto the screen”
By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 20 — Cuban filmmaker Eduardo del Llano recently presented his latest movie “Vinci”, but with a subject matter that marks a difference in film production on the island: “I believe in a Cuban film that’s not afraid of touching on universal characters and themes.”
HT: You were born in Moscow. What exactly is the story between you and that city.
Eduardo del Llano: My parents were both born in Pinar del Rio. My father fought in the underground movement against the Batista dictatorship. Given the hazardous life that he was living then, he and my mother agreed to hold off getting married until the revolution succeeded. And so they did; they were married shortly after 1959. My father was sent to study the socialist economy of the USSR, and of course he went with his wife. I was born there but my mother brought me to Cuba when I was 20 months old. My father re-joined us at the end of his studies, when I was four years old.
HT: What was “NOS-Y-OTROS” in the life of Eduardo del Llano?
EDL: That was a group of us who were together for 15 years, just imagine. The four of us founders created the group in 1982. Each of us was nearly twenty years old, all studying at the faculty of Arts and Letters. Aldo Bust was studying scientific and technical information and library science; Jose Leon was studying journalism, while Luis Felipe Calvo and I were students of art history. Later, in the late 80s, Leon and Aldo left but they were followed by Orlando Cruzata, JAPE, Leandro Perez and Jorge Fernandez Era.
It was a family, with all that this implies; there was fraternity, school, union, the political party. It was an arena for a group of teenagers who wanted to drive away the grayness of the period. Although we disbanded as a group in 1997, and not all of us stayed in Cuba, we all kept in touch. We’re all still brothers.
HT: Literature was a creative area that was also explored in your development. As a writer, what philosophy do you pursue?
EDL: It’s not an area that I also explore, it’s the area. I’m primarily a writer, though most people know my films. I’m a writer who dares to make films. My philosophy is no more than simply telling stories. My films are much stronger in the tracing of the characters, the action and dialogue than in visual experiments. I’m very Aristotelian in my narration.
HT: Your name has appeared in Cuban film since 1990, initially as a screenwriter. What new motives arose after that?
EDL: Well, I was fascinated by the possibility that my stories could come off the page and onto the screen. I loved having the movies take part in film festivals and me with them. I loved the challenge of transferring a literary story to the screenplay, the invisible architecture on which a film is constructed.
You can be a great author but fail as a screenplay writer, in the same way that a talented screenplay writer is not necessarily a Carpentier. I like to test myself; I try to be good at both. My vanity was delighted when I saw well-known and admired actors memorizing my dialogue.
HT: Does Monte Rouge have special importance in your career as a director?
EDL: At least it has the importance of being my first directing job. Moreover, even after having done many other things that I consider superior (even within the same Decalogo de Nicanor series of short films), the fact remains that for many people Monte Rouge is still my best work. It was filmed in my house with a small Sony camera for filming birthdays, two antediluvian lights and very little money.
HT: What led you to come up with Nicanor, one of your most popular characters among those who follow your filmography.
EDL: Nicanor comes from my literature. In that US-AND-OTHERS project we created several characters who reappear from one story to another: Galimatias (“Gibberish”) Perez is a journalist, Luis Alfil the intellectual, Armando Churrisco the bureaucrat (yes, that was one of our characters; later we gave him to the popular Cuban humorist Octavio Rodriguez), Chrissy is the foreigner, and others.
Nicanor O’Donnell was the common man, the average man, the anti-hero. When the group dissolved, I continued using the character, and I created others – like Ana, Rodriguez and Bolanos. Nicanor is a wildcard, but he also embodies common sense, he’s not mediocre, he the ordinary guy. More than a character, he is a way of being.
HT: Does your latest film, Vinci, suggest the rupture of an old pattern of Cuban cinema, dealing with “purely nationalist themes.”
EDL: Well, movies like Pon tu pensamiento en mi, by Arturo Soto; or Madrigal by Fernando Perez, with a script by Fernando himself and me, take place in places that are difficult to locate on maps or calendars. In any case, I believe in a Cuban film that’s not afraid to touch on universal characters and themes. I would love — in the same way that one thinks of Spartacus and there appears the image of Kirk Douglas speaking in English — for Leonardo da Vinci to be associated with Hector Medina, the actor who plays him.
HT: Your most recent film was excluded from competing in the 33rd International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (Havana Film Festival), which generated certain concerns that questioned that decision. How does Eduardo del Llano see this?
EDL: I’ve already said everything that I had to say. What I can do is cite some excerpts from my letters as a reminder:
“The Havana Film Festival must choose Latin American films, though these don’t necessarily have to deal with Latin America. I regret that my film doesn’t appear sufficiently Latin American in your eyes, but it is Cuban, and if Cuba is now in Asia, then certainly no one told me about that. On the other hand, my film tries to address a universal theme.
“Must what is Latin American exclude the universal? Doesn’t part of our Latin American identity include the desire for freedom and the importance of art for the individual, themes addressed in Vinci? The irony of this whole thing is that if Vinci were an American or European film, it would not have competed but it probably would have been exhibited in the International Panorama section of the festival without the least hesitation, as have been many others over the years, from Pulp Fiction to Dancer in the Dark.
“But instead — because it is Latin American — the festival that fights for Latin American and Caribbean identity suggested as an exceptional favor to allow it to be screened out of competition.
“If anything positive emerges from this incident for the years to come, it should be a rethinking of what is meant by Latin American cinema… One wonders if the festival is really seeking Latin American and Caribbean identity or — as Martinez Villena would say — to thicken the tenacious scab of colonization.”
HT: Do you have any ideas about what could be your next cinema project?
EDL: A very special documentary that I’ll produce independently starting in January; also a science fiction movie, “Omega 3,” whose script I’ve already given to the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC). So if everything goes well, I hope to be filming that in early 2013.
HT: What are your most urgent spiritual needs?
EDL: Writing. Reading. Seeing lot of films, especially comedies, some European and Asian films, some adventure – but mostly comedies. Collecting music from my favorite bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Watching made for TV series. Watching porn. Having some Chinese crackers with sesame to nibble on.