By Vicente Morín Aguado
HAVANA TIMES – Now that we can take home any message with the “Weekly Package” on a USB stick, to our forced confinement, Tony Bui’s movie the “Three Seasons” is a must-see in Cuba. We discover a landscape of lotus flowers without the smoke of bombs, which suddenly switches to a long line of bici-taxis whose owners negotiate with tourists coming out of bars and hotels, with beautiful girls on their arm.
It’s Cuba and it isn’t Cuba. Karl Marx was right somehow when he wrote “All great world-historic facts and figures appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Vietnam was the tragedy, while Cuba still dances to its own comedy, without deaths or invaders being killed.
In what was formerly known as Saigon, a girl spreads the fragrance of her lotus flowers. She sells them in stiff competition, while club owners take great care of their establishments’ reputations, jealously. A thousand-year-old story unfolds amid poverty, without buildings collapsing and without censorship. However, flower gatherers row hard in Mekong’s coves collecting white buds that the girls are now carrying in two baskets. They carry them with a stick weighing down on their delicate shoulders.
A debut of the country’s beauty, snatched away by camouflage uniforms in the recent past, Ngoc Hiep Nguyen represents a prostitute who is going to discover her human nature when a selfless cyclist wins an annual cycling competition and dedicates his prize money to the girl’s dream of spending a night in an air-conditioned room.
There are other flickers of the beauty of the human soul in the secondary role of Harvey Keitel, the only foreigner in the cast, who generously gives newcomer Tony Bui’s project a celebrity name and money. The superstar plays a former US marine who has come to look for the daughter he conceived and abandoned in these lands, thousands of miles from his home, during the war.
But the most poetic moment in the film, which is depicted with cinematography worthy of Chaplin, comes with a young woman from the provinces who hasn’t come to sell her physical assets, but to collect lotus flowers. Singing a song from her childhood to keep her going, she meets the Teacher, the owner of the lake full of fragrant white buds.
The darkness of leprosy infected a once good-looking young man, who sought refuge in his poetry. The disease ate away at his fingers, which is why he is forced to cast his pride aside when he meets the singing rural girl:
“I’m not hiding,” the Teacher’s remaining ego warns and then says:
“My ears flee through these windows to listen to birds singing; my nose goes through these walls to snooze with the fragrance of my lotus flowers; my eyes flutter in the air with every sunrise and sunset and my heart, my heart is not bound by Man’s earthly ties.”
This is the prevailing tone in the Three Seasons because you can find a reason to live, even amidst monotony. There is a purpose for human existence in any situation, and we can still sing for freedom even when we are living in poverty.
If any of my readers are thinking that I am proposing a certain path for Cuba by making a comparison with Vietnam today, they are wrong. I am only suggesting that we sit down and reflect, for we only have to remember that when the movie’s producers thanked the Vietnamese authorities for their support, we realize that this attitude implies authorization, and the crew were always under the watchful eye of inspectors in this communist state throughout the entire production.
Years have passed by, twenty-one since the movie was shot and three decades since the Doi Moi, the economic reform that pulled the country out of extreme poverty, infusing a paradigmatic optimism in the 95 million inhabitants in this Southeast Asian country.
These people, who proudly repeat We are the only country that has defeated three members on the UN Security Council, deploy their creative force in individual to individual, which accounts for the country’s millions.
In Washington, 57,000 US deaths are recorded from Vietnam. Today, the Vietnamese exchange the fruits of their labor with their former enemies.
I don’t know of a single US citizen who has died fighting the Cubans, however, my country’s president, who belongs to the Communist Party, said the following in a speech directed at the US president, on September 22nd:
“Once again, we declare before the international community, that our people, who are proud of their history and committed to the ideals and work of the Revolution, know how to resist and overcome.”
Jose Marti, a teacher and poet, the founder of our Homeland, wrote a story over a century ago, that is as tender as the petals of a lotus flower. The story is about four blind men who are determined to figure out what a docile elephant is like physically. The curious men ask for a king’s authorization for their project and the indulging monarch accepts, saying:
“The men who long to know are saints; men need to learn everything for themselves, and not to believe everything without questioning, or talking without understanding, or thinking like slaves what they have been told to think by others: go you four blind men to see this elephant with your own hands.”
Marti’s story is called “A walk through the land of the Animites.”
Ba Mua is the original title of the movie in Tony Bui’s language. The film director living in California answered a journalist:
“My movie isn’t American or Vietnamese, it’s mine.”