A common complaint overheard in Cuba during confidential conversations, chiefly among young professionals armed with college degrees and restless ambition, goes like this: “I love this country. I really do. But there’s no future here.”
Those words are never spoken, per se, in two of the three Cuban films featured in the “Vamos al Cine” festival-within-a-festival, Latino film program, but the theme is artfully buried within both, although expressed in very different ways by very different characters.
Fans of Cuban cinema, or just movie fans curious about Cuba, will have the opportunity to ask about sentiments like those when, thanks to the extravagant generosity of the Fred and June McMurray Foundation, three Cuban film directors will be featured in person at the Sonoma International Film Festival.
One of them, Juan Carlos Cremata, will comment on his 2005, Cannes Film Festival Award-winning film, “Viva Cuba,” about the Romeo-Juliet relationship between two children who decide to run away from home to thwart the girl’s mother from taking her out of the country.
The girl is Malu, her mother is upper-class, religious, divorced and has a boyfriend in another country, which gives her the opportunity to emigrate. Jorgito, the boy who lives across the street, has proletarian parents and a mother who expresses contempt for the fancy clothes and privileged pretensions of Malu’s mother, who she refers to as a slut.
When Malu learns her mother plans to take her out of Cuba, she and Jorgito conspire to travel to the far end of the island where her father is a lighthouse keeper. There they will implore him not to sign the papers that will allow Malu’s mother to take her away.
Wrapped up in this pre-adolescent love story, road movie and class struggle, is a deft, nuanced, multi-dimensional insight into the contradictory qualities of life in modern Cuba.
“Viva Cuba” is not expressly a political film, but like many Cuban works of art, political realities emerge, from various points of view in the fabric of the story. Malu’s mother repeatedly laments she has no future in Cuba, while Jorgito’s father is a proud supporter of the revolution.
Very different is the docudrama “Amor Cronico,” directed by Jorge Perugorria and starring the real-life Cuban-American singer Cucu Diamantes, who explores her past and her future during an epic bus tour around the island with copious footage of live concerts that showcase her full range of Latin-fusion-funk.
The music is intoxicating, infused with the unique energy that seems to pulse from Cuba’s musical soul. Throughout the infinitely entertaining film there is woven a restless uncertainty rooted in the understanding that Diamantes can’t seem to go home again, that her visit is a futile search for a past she can’t connect to her American future.
Whatever political or cultural insights you choose to read into these movies, they stand on their own as rich entertainment, with the intriguing addition of opaque windows into Cuban life.
Claudia Mendoza Carruth, a Colombian-American and former TV newscaster in her homeland, has poured considerable passion and energy into assembling a full slate of Hispanic films, with entries from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.