New Cuban movie has the island buzzing

July 4, 2009

Los dioses rotosDirected and written by Ernesto DaranasWith Silvia Aguila, Carlos Ever Fonseca, Ania Bu, Hector Noas and Yoel InfantaSydney Latin Film Festival, July 24-26, Tom Mann Theatre, Surry HillsVisit

Legends never rest in peace when they are deep-rooted in a nation's history. They are condemned to rise from the dead, again and again, at the dawn or end of each century.

Los dioses rotos (Broken Gods), has become one of the most talked-about movies since it was released across Cuba in December. Director Ernesto Daranas' film offers a modern version of the values represented by Alberto Yarini, the most famous Cuban pimp at the turn of the 20th century.

Near the end of the film, Laura, a university professor who delves into the Havana underworld, says, "Like a recurring cycle of reincarnations, Alberto Yarini returns to be crowned in San Isidro, Belen, Jesus Maria, Colon, and Guanabacoa. His power of seduction captivated the soul of a culture that both criticises and reveres him. I don't want to be sacrilegious<193>and in fact, I would like it be the other way around."

This is precisely the ambiguity between adoration for those whose passions plunge them into the abyss and the rationality of the intellectual who seeks understanding. This passionate and beautiful film is a Cuban version of the Greek tragedy as recreated in Carlos Felipe's play Requiem por Yarini.

The first colossal achievement of Los dioses rotos is in presenting a story that immediately grabs hold of the spectator, supported by a montage of close-ups, the deft use of archival material and perfect placing of the plot's turning points.

Second, is the gradual development of complex characters, people who are trapped and scarred by their adverse fate, a key element in tragedies.

The characters involved in the two love triangles <197> Laura, Alberto and Sandra in one; and Anselmo, Sandra and Alberto in the other <197> are moved by base actions: lies, faking, sex for profit, violence and crime. Nevertheless, the film, fortunately, does not allow itself to moralise or present sociological assessments.

As such, the film is driven by emotion and the desire to understand and empathise, that goes the beyond the hundreds of topics it raises such as social differences, ghetto toughness, and folklore.

In Requiem por Yarini, aesthetic elements go beyond the low morals of the environment it depicts. Los dioses rotos does the same, casting light on attitudes and behaviours that are usually condemned.

Maybe to achieve a certain visual and dramatic effect, there was an excessive beautification of the sordidness and degeneracy that, together with the soundtrack, at times makes the film verge on a sort of touristy self-exoticism, for which at one point Laura is reproached.

This is exemplified in phrases that come at the end of the movie such as "they come to photograph this shit and then go away", or "if you don't know, don't get involved".

This film has received lots of praise, especially for the acting in the lead and supporting roles. Silvia Aguila and Hector Noas truly display their skills at the trade.

Carlos Ever Fonseca and Ania Bu confer grace, vehemence and attractiveness to their respective characters, huge challenges for two emerging actors.

Dioses rotos is professional cinema at its best: spectacular, realistic, accessible to all, aesthetically adult and conceptually rich, complex, and controversial.

The one thing I didn't like about the movie was the overwhelming male chauvinistic nature of the plot, even though, because the film presents an insight into pimping, chauvinism is an essential element.

Despite the fact that the film's action revolves around the female characters, who also serve as the motives for tragedy, the film presents only female antiheroes that go crazy any time they hear the zipper of their lover lowering.

These are beings whose rationality is constantly blinded by revenge or jealousy. When the time comes for the film to present female chauvinism and unleashed progesterone, it makes no difference if it comes from a university student or prostitute, because the plot throws you head-first to the feet of the regent male <197> always heroic, protective, generous, and even a martyr.

Perhaps the film bears witness to the remnants of these traditional gender roles, and what I see as a male-centred plot is actually social criticism and denouncement.

Anyway, this door of interpretation is left open to the spectator, who should not miss the chance to see this film, a befitting way for the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

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