Saturday, February 22, 2014

Conduct, with the “C” of Cuba

Conduct, with the "C" of Cuba / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on February 21, 2014

Miguel has earned a lot of money this week. He managed to sell almost
one hundred pirated copies of the Cuban movie Conduct. Although the film
is showing in several of the country's theaters, many prefer to see it
at home among friends and family. The story of a boy nicknamed Chala and
his teacher Carmela is causing a furor and leading to long lines outside
the premiere cinemas. It's been decades since any national production
has been so popular or provoked so many opinions.

Why is the latest creation of director Ernesto Daranas becoming such a
social phenomenon? The answer transcends artistic questions to delve
into the depth of his dreams. While it is clearly told with excellent
cinematography and superb acting, its the realism of the script that is
the greatest achievement of this film. The movie generates an immediate
rapport with the audience, reflecting their own lives as if reflected in
a mirror.

In the dark theaters, facing the screen, the spectators applaud, scream
and cry. The moments of greatest emotion from the house seats coincide
with the politically most critical speeches. "No more years than those
who govern us," answers the teacher Carmela when they want her to retire
because she's spent too much time in the teaching profession; an ovation
of support runs through the theater at that instant. The semi-darkness
exacerbates the audacity and complicity.

The "Conduct phenomenon" is explained by its ability to reflect the
existence of many Cubans. But it goes far beyond a simple realistic
portrait, to become an x-ray that lays bare the bones. A Cuba where
there is hardly any moral framework left for a child in this environment
light-years away from the ideal claimed by the official media. Barely
twelve, Chala supports his alcoholic mother with what he earns from
illegal dog fights, inhabiting a harsh unjust city, impoverished to the
point of tears.

It's not the first time Cuban cinema has shown the tough side of
reality. The film Strawberry and Chocolate (1993) paved the way for
social criticism, particularly with regards the discrimination against
homosexuals and artistic censorship. The cost of its daring was high,
because it had to wait twenty years to be shown on national TV. Alice in
Wonderland (1991) faced a worse fate, with the political police filling
the theaters where it was projected, and party militants screaming
insults at the screen. Conduct has arrived in at different juncture.

The spread of new technologies has allowed many filmmakers to find ways
to make their projects. Critical, acerbic and rebellious scripts have
seen the light in the last five years because they have no need for the
approval and resources from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art
and Industry (ICAIC ). This proliferation of shorts, documentaries, and
independent films has been a very favorable situation for Ernesto
Daranas' filmstrip. The censors know that it's not worth the trouble to
veto such a movie on the State circuits. It would run through the
illegal networks like wildfire.

A brief conversation outside the Yara cinema exposed the controversy
this story unleashed. "There are a lot of people who live better than
Chala, that's true, but there are others who live much worse," said a
man in his sixties. A young woman responded that she wondered if the
director "exaggerated the squalor of the situations shown." Another girl
joined the debate to say, "You say this because you live in Miramar,
where these things don't happen.

On Tuesday night, the ruling party journalist Randy Alonso also joined
the line to see the movie in the final showing of the day. Behind him
giggles and comments were heard — "So what's he doing here?" — given
that his face is associated with uncritical journalism, a sycophant of
power. Once inside the theater, those who sat near him did not see him
join the chorus of shouts of support. With every minute that passed, he
seemed to sink more deeply into his seat, not wanting to be noticed.
What he was seeing on the screen was the exact opposite of what he
explains on his boring Round Table show.

So it is that Conduct was able to gather in the same room the
fabricators of the myth and those burdened by it. After the projector is
turned off, the doors open and the viewers exit to reality similar to
the script, but one where they can no longer express themselves under
the protection of the shadows. Chala waits for them on every corner.

21 February 2014

Source: Conduct, with the "C" of Cuba / Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba

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