Miami film fest `Kiddo’ takes a walk on Havana’s dark side
Kiddo (Chamaco), the made-in-Cuba movie premiering Tuesday at Miami International Film Festival, has no intention of charming its audiences.
“It’s not a movie that pleases viewers the way American films do,” director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti says from his home in Havana. “It’s bitter, hard, without any sugar-coating, a tough movie to swallow. It speaks of the dark side of human nature, and people are not accustomed to such a harsh discourse.”
The 90-minute feature, which depicts male prostitution and judicial and police corruption in Havana, is also unusual in that its opening credits immediately identify it as a joint Cuba-Miami-Islas Canarias production. The Miami angle comes via producer Iohamil Navarro, who has lived there since 2007. The film is characterized by Cremata and the producers as an independent production even though some technical support was provided by Cuba’s official Film Industry Institute, ICAIC.
“The movie was made with almost no resources,” says Cremata, whose previous movies Nada and Viva Cuba were shown at the Miami festival in 2005 and 2006. “But I had the support of a lot of people who did not charge a cent — the musicians, the actors — and we filmed the entire movie during the dawn hours in 10 consecutive days.”
The movie begins in Havana’s Central Park on Christmas Eve 2006, when Kárel (played by Fidel Betancourt), a 22-year-old from the countryside, is looking to earn a few bucks any way he can. He challenges a passerby, Miguel, to a game of chess for money. Kárel wins, but Miguel pulls out his empty pockets to show he cannot pay up. Kárel, infuriated, stabs him to death. A street sweeper and a drag queen named La Chupi witness the crime.
Miguel turns out to be the son of a judge who ventures out at night looking for male prostitutes, and that night he runs into Kárel, and they negotiate a date. Meanwhile, the policeman on the case, whose girlfriend is La Chupi, also hustles the attractive Kárel.
“The [Kárel] character is fiction, but he reflects a moment in contemporary life in Havana, what people are living,” Betancourt says. “That character exists in Havana and its beaches. He’s a young man who is constantly being dealt bad cards and is trying to survive. You know things aren’t going to turn out well, but he’s a man living out his destiny, the way it happens in Greek tragedies.”
A lot of the movie, which has the feel of a theatrical production, unfolds on the park bench. But scenes also were shot at Parque Martí and a park near El Morro, in an alley across from ICAIC and in a house in Vedado. At one point, the camera pans a Havana theater showing American Beauty.
“We filmed so late that the streets were deserted,” Navarro says. “The only people on the streets were drivers of cars that operate like taxis in Havana, and when they saw La Chupi walking down the street — we were filming with a long lens — they would drive up and try to pick her up. They thought she was working, and it was really funny.”
The movie’s dialogue captures the mood of Cubans who struggle with economic hardships and repression.
“Breath and swallow,” a character says. “It’s what you do.”
Another character bemoans the fact that when things look as if they might improve, “all of a sudden, the shadow.”
In real life, many of the film’s actors are scattered around the world: Betancourt lives in Madrid; Alfredo Chang, who plays La Chupi and really is a drag queen, lives in Miami; Caleb Casas, who plays Miguel, and Isabel Ramos, who plays his sister, are married and live in Colombia. Aramís Delgado, who plays the judge; Pancho García, Kárel’s gay uncle, and policeman Luis Alberto García, live in Cuba.
Based on a play by Abel González Melo, Chamaco was shown to accolades on Feb. 23 at Havana’s Charlie Chaplin Cinema during the 9th Exhibition by New Film Producers. Cremata says that showing was only “a dress rehearsal with the public” and that Miami’s gala screening at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts would be the film’s international premiere. He and Betancourt have been issued U.S. visas and will attend.
“I’m on edge,” Cremata says. “The Cuban public knows my work, but the public in Miami doesn’t know me.”
Alejandro Ríos, for more than a decade director of the Cuban Film Series at Miami Dade College, says that Kiddo is the most hard-hitting Cuban film he has seen in years.
“The movie denounces the sordid underground that exists in Havana today,” Ríos says. “You see it and think `What happened to that country?’ ”
Kiddo (Chamaco) shows at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Gusman Center.
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO @MiamiHerald.com