Cuban Film Industry Stagnant Due to Government Policy
Cuba is currently a cinematic backwater with a film policy that hearkens back to the days of the Soviet Union, Cuban filmmaker Pavel Giroud said Wednesday.
“The way in which film-making is designed in Cuba, it’s as if the Soviet (system) had been implanted. It’s now ineffective. What was once a ferocious dinosaur is now an old dinosaur, a fossil, which is also a reflection of the country, of the situation there,” Giroud told Efe here in an interview.
The 37-year-old Giroud, who says he has been influenced by filmmakers as diverse as Americans Joel and Ethan Coen and Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, directed and wrote “Omerta,” a 2008 film that is currently being screened at Madrid’s Casa de America cultural center and museum.
“Omerta,” which takes its name from the Italian word denoting organized crime’s code of silence, tells the story of an elderly man named Rolo Santos who was a gangster’s bodyguard in 1950s Cuba before later finding himself swept up in the communist revolution, a radical societal transformation he is never able to comprehend.
One day, his former boss contacts him for a mission that will involve his doing “the only thing he knows how” and return him to a world based on a primitive code of honor and an entire system centered on dignity.
“He’s a person who represents values that the revolution wanted to destroy, but they weren’t necessarily negative values,” Giroud said.
“Omerta” is a film that “sparks questions about honor and loyalty though always with a backdrop of irony,” according to the director, who said the film can be classified as noir, although “constantly breaking (with the conventions of that genre)” with its sense of irony and “reflection on aging and the disappearance in contemporary Cuba of many values that had existed before.”
“The government film critics tore the movie apart, the official media blasted it, even the plot, the artistic production. But it was well received among the circle of young, alternative critics, on film blogs,” he said.
Giroud, who gained international acclaim for his previous film, “La edad de la peseta” (The Silly Age), says that contrary to the situation in the rest of Latin America – where cinema “is going through its best moment, especially because of its diversity” – Cuba “is now a backwater.”
“The nation’s film policy, once its most precious asset, is now failing. Simply put, we’re seeing the crisis and decadence of a system,” he said.
Regarding the possibility of contemporary Cuban filmmakers dealing with the situation of political dissidents, he said it would not be difficult to make a film on that topic but it would be a challenge to have it screened.
However, he said he objected to capitalizing on the current political situation, possibly alluding to international pressure on Cuba to release political prisoners following the death of a dissident hunger striker.
“Artists should strive to be relevant but not opportunistic. Taking advantage of a political, social, economic situation to make a film and take advantage of the moment is an opportunistic attitude and that leads to a pamphlet. That doesn’t interest me,” he said.
He says Cuba has been most harmed by “the clash between two very radical positions,” adding that “no negotiation will ever be possible” between them.
The filmmaker also commented on the strategy toward Cuba backed by Spain’s center-left government, which calls for respect for human rights on the island but also for dialogue with the island’s communist regime.
That position has put the Iberian nation at odds with other EU member states.
“Spain’s stance is being harshly attacked but it’s one that I share. I don’t like these clashes between two radical positions because they lead nowhere, only to paralysis, to a half-century of paralysis,” he added.