Thursday, February 12, 1998
If great art is a metaphor for life, then Tomas Gutierrez Alea''s final film, directed and cowritten with Juan Carlos Tabio, remains as a tremendous testament to his visionary artistry. In Guantanamera, romance becomes a metaphor for Cuba''s turbulent political climate and the effects it''s had on her citizens.
In a time when the Pope leaves his Vatican sanctum to visit Fidel Castro''s Cuba, this film is startlingly relevant. Although Gutierrez Alea didn''t live to see the events of last month, his art appears to have predicted them with amazing accuracy.
Alea and Tobia use a colorful cast of characters united by marriage and blood, place and love, to paint a Cuban landscape simultaneously decaying and stifled, diverse and dynamic.
Brilliant cinematography sets bumpy, potholed roads and small towns with crumbling buildings against a backdrop of lush, tropical countryside.
But the most effective tool used in the film is music, whereby a wide array of Latin rythms reflect changes in tone and mood. North-of-the-border natives might recognize the title song from junior high Spanish class, except that here the lyrics have been adapted and cleverly narrate the story.
Each character represents either a political faction or a period in Cuba''s turbulent political history, and often reflects the values of a particular generation or socio-economic segment of Cuban society. The dialogue and names of the characters serve as an allegory for the nation as a whole.
At the center of the drama is Aunt Yoyita (Conchita Brando), who has been successful in the outside world but returns after 50 years to her birthplace, Guantanamo. She finds it small, tumbled-down and somewhat desolate, following a succession of departures by neighbors who''d previously prospered there. She admonishes her niece, Gina (Mirtha Ibarra), for staying cooped-up at home, but is clearly speaking to a person shaped by a culture that''s been isolated by politics, economics and geography.
Gina''s husband, Adolfo (Carlos Cruz), a government bureaucrat who was once a man of stature and has fallen to the inauspicious office of funeral director, struggles to keep a dogmatic Communism alive. He grows cold and calculating, and mistakes equality for sameness, leaving no room for love or the needs of the individual.
Serving as a contrast to Adolfo is Mariano (Jorge Perugorria), a truck driver making his way and wage across Cuba but, like the country''s younger generation, is searching for meaning. He and Gina literally bump into one another and are reminded of a more vibrant time in both their lives, when she was a university professor and he, her adoring student. The two provide each other with the hope that they need to go on, as their ensuing romance crosses age and class boundaries.
Yoyita''s elderly lover, Candido (Raul Eguren), represents an older Cuban generation, one that had dreams but which is growing irrelevant through blind trust and passivity. He warns Gina that she is wasting her life with Adolfo, and that she must look forward so as not to miss her chance at happiness.
Throughout the film a young girl with flowers appears, sometimes in front of ominous signs reading, "Socialism Or Death," or in towns with names like "Matanzas (Killings)" and "Sancti Spiritus (Holy Spirit)."
It is not clear exactly what she symbolizes. But what is astonishing is that in today''s Cuba she signifies hope, defined ironically by such contrasting figures as the Pope and Fidel Castro. Perhaps the message of the film is most clearly stated on a sign at the ceremony honoring Aunt Yoyita for her musical contributions to Cuba and the world, a sign which reads "Culture is Immortal."