Skip to comments.Cuban Film Shows Raw Side of Life in Havana
Posted on 07/31/2003 3:32:55 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
HAVANA (Reuters) - The characters eat black beans and rice in silence, bathe with buckets and cycle miles to work against a backdrop of the crumbling beauty of their city.
A 79-year-old woman sells peanuts to make ends meet. A hospital employee becomes a transvestite cabaret dancer by night, a doctor doubles as a clown after work and a railway repairman plays the sax in an Adventist chapel.
"Suite Habana" documents a day in the life of a dozen Cubans who struggle with the harsher side of life in revolutionary Cuba. The adults don't smile or utter a single word throughout the 80-minute film.
The melancholy documentary directed by Cuban filmmaker Fernando Perez -- a rapid sequence of images, sounds and music -- is the talk of the town this summer in Havana.
The film has packed the city's Charles Chaplin theater for five weeks, drawing tears and standing ovations from audiences stunned by the frank portrayal of their day-to-day lives.
"It shows the reality of my country that is never seen on television. It's a very raw look at difficulties that exist," said university lecturer Oscar Gomez as he left the theater.
Some Cubans were surprised President Fidel Castro's government allowed exhibition of a film that focuses on the daily grind of life under tropical socialism.
While criticism of the island's one-party political system is not permitted, Cuba has tolerated films that satirize bureaucracy such as "Guantanamera," "Alice in Wonder Village" and "Death of a Bureaucrat." "Strawberry and Chocolate," which criticizes discrimination against gays, was in 1995 the first Cuban film to receive an Oscar nomination for best foreign film.
The public debate over "Suite Habana" was no less surprising given the country's media are controlled by the state.
Ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma praised it as "one of the most important films in the history of Cuban cinema."
The workers weekly Trabajadores said Perez' images "speak of the daily feat of existence, of how one can live in poverty without losing dignity or renouncing one's dreams."
The official view is that the film accurately portrays the stoicism with which "habaneros" put up with social hardships that the government blames on four decades of "economic blockade" by its archenemy the United States.
FEW SMILES, REAL LIVES
In his sermon on a recent Sunday, a Catholic priest urged his parishioners to go and see "Suite Habana" for its "eloquent and revealing images of daily life in Cuba today."
The only character who smiles in the film and appears to live a carefree normal life is Francisquito, a 10-year-old boy with Down Syndrome.
The only appetizing food shown in "Suite Habana" is in meals made with hygienic care by an airline catering firm for passengers on planes that few Cubans get to travel on.
Jorge Luis, 42, cries with his family in a searing airport scene as he departs his homeland and boards a charter flight for a new life in Miami, where most Cuban exiles live.
"This film touches us so deeply because it represents Cuban reality, the love between Cubans and the constant drama of separation," said Carlos, a museum employee. "It is difficult to dream in Cuba, but nobody can take dreaming away. The message of the film is that one should never give up one's dream."
The director stressed he had total freedom to make "Suite Habana" and has not had a single complaint from the government.
"Eighty percent of Havana lives like this. Many bathe with a bucket, with no running water. I did it for eight years," said Perez, son of a postman who dreamed of being an astrologer.
The filmmaker earns 400 pesos a month, equal to $15, from the state cinema agency and got a bonus in dollars during filming with Spanish producing company Wanda that funded the production and holds the international rights.
"Suite Habana" will be shown abroad first in Spain, at the San Sebastian film festival in September, and then in France, Austria and Switzerland.
"It is not a film of smiles. The characters are real people who act out their lives that are full of difficulties, but they are characters that dream," Perez said.
The documentary returns again and again to a statue of John Lennon sitting on a Havana park bench honoring the Beatle who wrote "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
During a tropical downpour, the camera focuses on Lennon's soaking glasses. "He seemed to be crying," one film-goer said.
The film ends listing each character's dream. The peanut lady, Amanda, says she has no dreams left.
I wonder what cut of the profits go to Fidel Castro.
People walk on a street lined with crumbling buildings in downtown Havana, July 28, 2003. A movie called 'Suite Habana,' made by Cuban film-maker Fernando Perez, documents a day in the life of Cubans who struggle with the harsher side of life in revolutionary Cuba. (Rafael Perez/Reuters)
Cuban street artists on stilts walk into a building as a woman stands nearby in downtown Havana, July 9, 2003. A movie called 'Suite Habana', made by Cuban film-maker Fernando Perez, documents a day in the life of Cubans who struggle with the harsher side of life in revolutionary Cuba. The movie is said to speak of the daily feat of existence, of how one can live in poverty without losing dignity or renouncing one's dreams. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/FOR STORY CUBA-FILM
I personally wish they would show this film in Hollywood.
You obviously don't know very much about Cuba.
I've been reading lots of articles saying we are very much appreciated in Iraq by the average citizens and their leaders.
I'm not arguing that the U.S. needs to militarily intervene in Cuba. I don't know anyone who is. My only point was that if someone thinks Iraq and Cuba are even remotely similar or that Cubans would respond the same way as a very small percentage of Baathist Iraqis have, then that person just isn't very bright and defintely knows nothing about Cuba and Cubans.
What's the big deal? The US has clowns doubling as Democrat Presidential candidates!
Nothing says communism like a good Cuban
Just curious as to what that lesson is.
It seems to me that the Iraq thing is still playing itself out. If you believe Time magazine it might seem like a failure........But in fact, the Iraqi people are afraid that the U.S. may leave prematurely and give Iraq back to the thugs who have been running it.
Once the thugs in Cuba are gone, the Cuban people are going to go banannas making sure that they don't come back.
A couple things: 1) The "country" did not rise up against him. Some very intelligent thugs were able to rally enough people to overthrow a very weak, poorly-run government. And this was 50 years ago when many poor Cubans had no idea what Communism was other than that it sounded nice. They no better now and Castro has had to imprison and execute thousands that were once considered from his main support areas (i.e. the Afro-Cubans).
2) The Batista government that Castro overthrew was not nearly as tyrannical as his and therefore not willing to execute and imprison innocent people in order to keep an iron fist rule on the country.
Was the standard of living under Batista as bad as it is under Castro?
No. My in-laws escaped from there in '62 when they were in their young 20's. Havana was beautiful. They called it "Paris on the Carribean." Today, Cuba is much different. For example, Havana is crawling with prostitutes. In the 50's girls were not allowed to go on dates unless their father or brother came along as a chaperone.
The Cubans did rise up. They were promised air cover by Kennedy who supplied a carrier. Che and Fidel were pissing in their pants and would not commit their troops against the uprising until it became quite clear that Kennedy had backstabbed the insurgents. They were slaughtered. There was a very poignant thread a while ago about how the Admiral on the carrier literally cried and begged for "Just one plane Mr. President".
The only one who has been able to kick out the communists in street to street fighting has been Franco. His reward-constant bashing by the liberals and those who are ignorant of the hell Stalin unleashed in Spain.
There was a Franco in Cuba-he was shot somewhere in the swamps.
I was all over the country in early April '03. Cuba makes the worst parts of Mexico I've seen look like Heaven.
Surprisingly, there is a truth in this. Uncle Sam is directly propping up Castro with the ecconomic blockade. If there were no sanctions, if Juan working in Goodwrench was making $2 per hour and Jose working for Castro $15 a month, Castro's regime would topple like a deck of cards.
Cubans are prisoners of both Castro and The United States.
And that is what Castro wants. Everytime there has been momentum towards reviewing the embargo he does something to stop it. He needs the embargo as an excuse. Castro will be dead before you see US business in Cuba.
They couldn't get worse-but I would like to see him get a lead injection from some SPECFOR insert team. Of course thats easy for me to say sitting in my cushy office ;-)
There is no blockade against Cuba; every other country in the world does business with Castro.
If Cubans don't have Made-in-China toothbrushes or Made-in-China toilet seats is not because the Cuban government cannot buy those items in America.
The only blockade I have seen is against American companies by large retailers like Walmart and Target. As a matter of fact, I have tried to buy Made-in-USA toothbrushes and Made-in-USA toilet seats, and I cannot find any American products in Walmart or Target.
If there were no sanctions, if Juan working in Goodwrench was making $2 per hour and Jose working for Castro $15 a month, Castro's regime would topple like a deck of cards.
There is a little problem with your argument, since it has already been tried in Cuba and failed. There are many private companies that have invested in Cuba, and that did not help the Cuban economy; the US is not the only game in town. The foreign companies pay to the Cuban government the serfs' wages, and the serfs get paid whatever amount the Cuban government deems appropriate.
In your scenario, you seem to suggest that American companies will be able to hire any Cuban at will and pay Cuban workers better wages. Did I understand you correctly?
Furthermore, American companies have done plenty of business with Cuba; for instance, GM, not GM Detroit but GM anywhere else. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, GM Argentina supplied Cuba with a large taxi fleet. As a matter of fact, Chevy became almost synonym with taxi in Cuban slang. Did that improve the economic condition of the people?
In the Bible, there an Egyptian king that dreams about fat cows and scrawny cows. Even after devouring the fat cows, the scrawny cows remain as lean and mean as before their eating binge. In Cubas case, any amount of economic profit is quickly eaten by the choking socialist system and corrupt officials.
Whether the US companies are allowed to do business directly with Castro or not, the situation in the ground will not change much until there is openness in the economic field. Every time Castro allows a little free-market experiment, Cubans are regaled with abundance of foodstuff and basic supplies; then Castro changes his mind and goes back to his Stalinist background.
The only way a communist country can prospers is by keeping the communist ideology in check and allow a capitalist system to flourish next to a dictatorial political system, such as China. Otherwise, any foreign investment has little chance of helping the average serf.
Financed and backed by the U.S. Government. Eisenhower expressed surprise and dismay, when Castro announced that he was a Communist.
Uh huh. I thought Batista was financed and backed by the U.S. Government as well.
As he surely was. The term "Two Faced" comes to mind.
Whatever. You probably don't think we landed on the moon either.
Don't forget Pinochet.
Communists love misery wherever they see it.
After all, if they didn't have misery to blame on someone else, what would they have?
Cuba has trade with the other 190+ countries in the world. They have access to everything. The US embargo should have little affect. Please explain why it does...
Did you get the chance to speak with any locals? If so, what impression did you come away with?
That's only for today. Tomorrow, you're all (the filmmakers and the audiences who came to see this film) under arrest.
Of course. This probably means he dreams of being able to do it for money. Like a psychic. The stuff is all bunk to me of course, but what a great country we live in where people can get others to pay them for such nonsense. This man will never get to unless Castro dies in his life.
Geographically it is. Architecturally it once was as well. Now it looks like a hurricane came through and no one cleaned up or fixed anything afterwards. The horrors of communism are impossible to really describe. One has to see them in person and hear the stories just to get a tiny feeling. I still can't even imagine what it must be like for those people to live there. I've seen the slums of Mexico City and I would live there in a heartbeat (and it doesn't get much worse than that in the West) before I would live in the average Cuban situation.
Pinochet was a true hero. However, his task was a piece of cake compared to what Franco did. I would put Franco and Pinochet in the top 5 leaders of the 20th century along with Reagan, Thatcher and (begrudgingly)Churchill. I base my criteria on defeating communists, improving economic conditions and improving personal freedoms.
Do you know what happens when unarmed people take on communists?
Do you have any idea of the history of the Castro "revolution"?