Por otra parte y por otras ra- zones tampoco el cine socialista suele satisfacer plenamente esa demanda. Dar con ellas y realizarlas es cosa de poetas. Sin embargo, no siempre fue asf. Eline norteamericano, con su sentido pragmatico fue el que mas avanz6 por ese camino. Como practica revolucionaria resulta eficaz dentro de los estrechos limites en que opera.
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His films always defined the limits of expression in revolutionary Cuba 1. Unlike any other Cuban filmmaker, Alea was able to retain a sophisticated balance between his dedication to the revolution and his critical judgement of it when its ideals had been betrayed. Throughout his career, Alea constantly upheld his personal vision and never put his critical eyes to rest. In films such as Death of a Bureaucrat , Memories of Underdevelopment and Guantanamera , Alea describes life in Cuba in subtle, often comic ways.
Through his films, Alea focused on speaking frankly about the course of Cuban revolution and its effect on the future of Cuba. From his first feature film, Stories of the Revolution , to his last, Guantanamera , Alea was able to explore his own complicated relationship with Cuban revolution: while working within the system, he always criticised its shortcomings, insisting on public discourse.
Persuaded by his father, he went to study law, although his personal interests gravitated toward cultural and political issues.
The ICAIC recognised film as the most powerful and important art form in modern life, a voice of the state, and, unquestionably, the most accessible form of distributing revolutionary ideas to the masses. In his early filmmaking days, having a distinctive personal voice, being an auteur in the European sense of the word, meant a lot less to Alea than belonging to this conceptually new and collectively important film project with national weight and significance.
An ardent supporter of the revolution that dispatched the despotic Batista and brought Castro to power, Alea nevertheless had an uneasy relationship with the political regime of the revolutionary Cuba under Castro. Repeatedly in his work, the director painted a more complex portrait of Cubans than the rest of the world was able to imagine. He made some gutsy critiques of the socioeconomic and political realities of his land, as he pondered the persistence of a petty-bourgeois mentality in a society supposedly dedicated to the plight of the working poor.
From the beginning Alea was committed to using film as an instrument of social awareness, and Neorealism, with its desire to expose the true face of the working poor, was a perfect stylistic vehicle for such exploration.
His first feature work, Stories of the Revolution, was not necessary a successful one but rather a telling tale about the traumatising and inequitable effect revolution had on society. The film depicted the official history of the revolution and, following the traditions of Neorealism, used non-professional actors and was shot on actual locations to bring about the prosaic realities of every day life.
After producing a series of shorts while working for a Mexican-owned film production company, Alea decided to take a break from making documentaries to dedicate himself to an entirely new genre — comedy — as it gave him a chance to experiment with narrative and comic technique. His next film, Twelve Chairs , was based on a satirical novel of the same name by two Soviet writers, Ilya Ilf and Eugene Petrov 5. The zest of the story comes from its ridiculing of the challenges of a new, socialist order: when a wealthy woman resists the thought of giving her possessions to the collective, she hides her treasures in twelve chairs of a dining set.
Her nephew finds out about it after her death, when everything has become nationalised, and starts chasing the chairs all over the country. In his next film Death of a Bureaucrat, Alea continued experimenting with the comic genre. This black comedy criticises, at an early point in the Castro regime, the administrative muddle of the political system. What follows is a series of darkly comic adventures that nearly drive the nephew mad, and culminate in a hilarious scene in which the desperate nephew, in one of his futile attempts to secure the pension, strangles the main bureaucrat at the cemetery.
The story takes place during a transitory period in Cuba, between the Bay of Pigs invasion in and the Cuban Missile Crisis in , events to which the film makes direct reference by using fragments of newsreels, recording of speeches, filming with hidden camera 8.
Without any particular political affiliations of his own, Sergio, a well-off intellectual, becomes increasingly self-absorbed and alienated from the world around him when, at the onset of the revolution, his wife and friends leave Havana.
Perhaps they were not prepared for a film of such calibre? The film would not have been as effective had Alea not constructed it as richly as he did — by using documentary and semi-documentary footage to show the reality around Sergio as he witnesses it. This renders the film very personal, and is employed as a backdrop to the political reality in Havana, giving the film its philosophical, ruminative touch.
The level of narrative and stylistic sophistication Alea achieved with Memories of Underdevelopment ensured many contradictory readings of the film.
Other critics, however, read the film as a critique of the revolution and, overall, the most inappropriate subject matter for the progressive Cuban cinema.
To this Alea responded that the film was not only aiming to depict Sergio and his like as endangered species. It also addressed those obstetricians of culture who: …have believe themselves to be the sole depository of the revolutionary legacy; those who know what the socialist morality is and who have institutionalized mediocrity and provincialism… They are those who tell us that people are not mature enough to know the truth…This film is also directed to them, and is also intended, among other things, to annoy them, to provoke them, to irritate them For this reason, Alea turned to mapping out Cuban history and made A Cuban Fight Against Demons , a film in which he traced the precursor of the Cuban Revolution when, in , Cuba fought against Spanish control.
Once Memories of Underdevelopment was completed, Alea envisioned making a film about an individual committed to the revolution, instead of a brooding, self-absorbed one. He eventually turned the lens onto himself and made Up to a Certain Point , a film that is fundamentally a love story between a middle-age documentary filmmaker and a young single mother working in the docks of Havana. The film effectively examines the psychological split between the dynamic ideas of revolution and the reality of social order.
Up to a Certain Point follows a group of documentary filmmakers who are shooting a film about Cuban machismo in the docks of Havana. While researching this project, Oscar, a married, middle-aged screenwriter, meets Lina, an independent young dockworker. Their ensuing romance and its subsequent finale are reminiscent of that in Memories of Underdevelopment, further dissecting the questions of liberation and bourgeois intellectualism.
Without realising it, Oscar is the same man himself as the dockworkers he is portraying in his film. It is probable that Oscar represents Alea — just as Sergio could very easily stand in for the director. By turning himself in for such examination, Alea not only possibly admits to being as sexist as the men he depicts in his documentary, but, more importantly, is not afraid to make a statement about the pretensions and contradictions of Cuban society.
Stylistically, the film is engaged in portraying clearly defined boundaries between social classes — through the use of music, language, and gesture. The representation of several character types is very important to the film. It is perhaps people like Arturo that Alea provoked in Memories of Underdevelopment. The female character Lina is developed a lot more carefully and thoroughly than Elena, with whom Sergio was having a fling in Memories.
This is not the first film to examine the often-contradictory concepts of art and propaganda, but the balanced perspective presented here instils the issue with freshness. The story, set in , concerns the relationship that gradually develops between the flamboyantly gay Diego and a very young, politically committed university student, David. Even though in the course of the film it is David who undergoes a major emotional transformation, Diego is the main focus and protagonist of the film.
He is complex and charismatic, religious he admits to believing in Jesus but committed to the ideas of the revolution in his own personal ways.
With his liberal, eccentric, tolerant and cosmopolitan views, Diego is a lot more attractive than naive David, whose head is filled with rigid socialist ideology. Although Alea always used carefully prepared scripts, improvisation during shooting was encouraged.
The filmmaker had developed a group of staple actors who had come to realise his fondness for Cubans, their country, their travails, sadness, and joy. Ibarra is an actress of luminous, smiling, feminine talent, as is evident in her portrayal of Lina in Up to a Certain Point, Georgina, the long-suffering wife of a local bureaucrat named Adolfo in Guantanamera, and the sometimes suicidal, sometimes comically religious and sometimes irresistibly naive former prostitute, put out of work by the revolution, in Strawberry and Chocolate.
His critiques drew on satire and irony, and they succeeded because of his profound understanding of human nature, its strengths and frailties.
Alea, Tomás Gutiérrez
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