Nelsito’s World or a Teenager’s Dream

Nelsito’s World, a film by Fernando Perez

By Lynn Cruz

HAVANA TIMES – The premiere of the movie El mundo de Nelsito by Fernando Perez, who also wrote the script with Abel Rodriguez, was held as part of the celebrations for the Cuban Film Institute’s 62nd anniversary at the Charles Chaplin movie theater in Havana. There was an almost full auditorium, some of the movie’s staff and cast of actors and actresses.

During the premiere, Perez was sorry that part of the team is no longer in Cuba today, and voiced his concerns for the future of Cuban film, controlled by this institution.

The movie is a great labyrinth just like the minds that dreamed it up. Nelsito (Jose Raul Castro) is a teenager who suffers from paraplegia, maybe Luis’ (Jorge Perugorria) adolescence in La pared de las palabras?

The fact that Nelsito’s world is a bed from which he watches his mother (Isabel Santos) and the world she paints, with detailed images in Castro’s great big eyes, frozen in time, are suffocating. A suffocation that contrasts with the enigma of his gaze and a smile that is pretty much fixed on his face, which becomes disturbing. Castro has made a magnificent debut in his performance as Nelsito.

Nelsito’s stifled and repressed desire to go beyond his mother’s canvas, to break the physical umbilical cord, live outside his head, be the protoganist of his own life, encounter the unknown, the great adventure of living in the city, but trying to search for this in Nature, to try and understand what lies beyond the concrete, and the concrete is an abyss that Nelsito won’t be able to escape. The body becomes the obstacle the imagination needs to navigate. Like this feeling of running at full speed down Infanta Street in Havana and crashing into a wall that separates land from the ocean. The certainty of uncertainty.

Waking up in a shipwreck. I still have Castro’s (Nelsito’s) bewildered look imprinted in my mind.

If I had to describe the movie in a few words, I would say “it’s the eternal duality of body (the concrete) and mind (the abstract).”

Nelsito creates realities involving his neighbors and his own mother who goes out of her way to take care of him even amidst harsh economic conditions and having to bear the incomprehension of those around her, and the State’s.

Nelsito makes two characters collapse. He positions them like puppets in front of circumstances where they face new hardship, maybe so we viewers can feel a little relieved when we manage to all finally escape Nelsito’s mental labyrinth.

Some imagined stories pay tribute to global cinema and to the filmmaker’s own movies. Outside, where Nelsito (or the young Marti in El ojo del canario?) peeks out his head and doesn’t miss the ants working in detail, until paramedics come and pick up his body and he guides them to the newly-buried body, only we discover this an hour later in the movie.

This moment is also evocative of the beginning of Blue Velvet, where a dead person’s ear nourishes insects on the grass and we ask the question: who’s ear is that? It could well be Van Gogh’s, but there isn’t an immediate answer in David Lynch’s movie either.

Or the moment when two wicked friends, played by important actresses Laura de la Uz and Edith Massola, now mature women, let go of a car’s steeling wheel and throw themselves down an empty street – the mental precipice of Telma and Louise?, exercising pure freedom and women’s emancipation supposedly.

The story of the accident starring Jacqueline Arenal and Carlos Luis Gonzales, two automated beings of (in)civilization who don’t seem human, is brutal. As if Life had stripped them of empathy. I felt like they deserved it, to the point that you even sympathize with the blackmailer (Mario Guerra) despite Arenal’s tears.

The backdrop is a city in ruins, in contrast with Jet set, art dealers from Madrid, luxury homes, consumerism and the sentimental relationships based on power or submission.

Crime (maybe the way violence is expressed in the act of growing up) as a purifying exercise. As a sport where impunity is already the law for those who exist in certain circles, even though it isn’t explicitly stated, rather implied.

Perhaps the most subversive part of the movie is the Doctor character (Edith Massola), in a country where doctors are exported. I have always believed doctors are potential murderers, and it’s this dark side of the profession that the director explores.

The double lives of two teenagers who prostitute themselves (Liliana Sosa and Chris Gomez), puts one of the most sensitive issues of Cuban society today – but also universal in nature – on the table.

Perhaps the movie’s greatest challenge lies in the different set designs? Not only the pace of the movie that is sometimes slow, but the cutting of scenes in both content and style, where performances are more realistic, almost documentary-like, which is something Perez had explored in other movies such as Ultimos dias en la Habana, but this time the contrast is intentionally made more abrupt. Thus, the skilled performances of the renowned: Paula Ali, Mario Guerra, Mayra Mazorra, Yerlin Perez, Armando Miguel Gomez; as well as the younger actors, is subject to different performance styles.

The absence of the father figure in almost every household is significant. As if the masculine has been surgically removed, in a universe of women which is the foundation of the new Cuban family, with their determination. In fact, Nelsito brings the deformity of the macho to the screen, on a symbolic level with his character.

Transitions from reality to dreams, almost always preceded by drawings that blur and fade space, to give room to this alleged reality: the fiction of imagination, like the duality of living through the lens of a camera today, (Raul Prado), aligned with the world, but with one important difference: Nelsito is playing God, in a world where God has died, so his creations can be nothing but monsters.

The most interesting thing about the movie is that if you clear away Perez and Rodriguez’ drama equation, the movie could be a story of teenage love, but the drama doesn’t reveal this entirely, because it’s hard to express emotions properly here. Such as the stutterer in El pabellon de oro who is unable to express beauty, so he can’t do anything but destroy it. This also being his way of venerating it.

Perez-Rodriguez’ adults, from a teenager’s point of view, are symbolic of Cubans in a test tube society, without mature thinking, marked by the diaspora community and being fragmented into parts. They can’t be anything but excess.

Yanelis (Anarely Ruiz) 

The ghost of childhood haunts Nelsito in the form of a little girl. His heroine Yanelis, the girl who grew up in the apartment downstairs, who is played by the young actress Anarely Ruiz with the warmth of her big blue eyes too, could be the last hint at hope. That is until her tears expose a hidden truth and make us doubt if this has all been another illusion, a new trap set by Perez to make us understand that he, and his co-script writer Rodriguez, don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I say this because darkness then falls over the auditorium and the ending, with credits. So, we are unable to wake up from the dream (or nightmare), just like Nelsito, even at the end of the movie.

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