A Night and a Dream on a Film about Balseros

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by: Joel del Rio


The ill-fated circumstance of the ocean and its boatpeople all around has been kind of an underground and recurrent obsession in the Cuban Art. Just to mention some examples, now I remember those huge parades of migrating boats by Alexis “Kcho” Leiva. I see myself in concerts crowded with young people that sing along with Carlos Varela the chorus “black tears” in the song Like the fish. The cinematography also got involved in the grief that reached its upmost level on 1994, when thousands of raft-people set about looking for the “American dream” stimulated by the endless American propaganda, the Cuban Adjustment Plan, the wetbacks, and the suspension of all obstructions for the illegal and massive emigration in the border guards by the Cuban government.

If we assume as Cuban all the films made within the Island, with local talent and stories of undeniable significance in the collective national imaginary, then the fiction movies One night (2012) and Balseros (1997-2002) are the two more visible works about the hard times experienced at the Cuban seashores and the sea strip that separates us from USA, on 1994. One night was the first work by the young British director Lucy Molloy, while Balserose was quite an international event thanks to its Oscar nomination in its category and to the expositive skill of the Spanish journalists Carles Bosch and Josep M. Domenech.

Acclaimed in Berlin, Brasilia, Athens, and Stockholm and, of course, in Miami and Havana (where it was briefly showed) due to its high documentary charge and the spontaneity of its amateur actors, One night declares since the very beginning that it is inspired on true stories. The film tells the story of three young people who are determined to run away from a country where the only thing they can do is “sweat and make love”. The filmmaker and scriptwriter came to Cuba many times to gather information that allows her to understand at least the Cuban character and develop the story; that´s why her film is mainly focused on the preparation of the trip and the construction of a very rough boat. And this dramatic circumstance wants the spectator to get into the black market universe, prostitution, dysfunctional families, and the city full of dirt and destruction, the excess of vigilance and control.

In the second part of One night it is shown with an extreme realism, but according to the codes of adventure movies, the night when they run away and a part of their crossing through Florida Strait. We can talk about melodrama, because it is a love triangle, and it is also an adventure movie because its filmmaker treats her three protagonists like heroes that must face up challenges and make an eventful journey to get their highest goal: to land alive on the American coasts. The edition and narrative pace keep suspense, while the photography opts for a beautification, which sometimes work against the magnitude of tragic realism.

Instead of sticking to the story of three characters united by the desire of emigrating, Balseros followed the footpaths and showed the opinions of seven Cuban people who were arranging the departure trip from Cuba. But all that is only the first stage; later, these seven people are imprisoned on the Guantanamo base, and we can see the outcomes after their arrival to the States. On that way, we perceive not only a journalistic style on the raft-people´s crisis, but also a speech about the fulfillment or not of success dreams and personal realization that stimulated the migrating rush. In a time when the Cuban image was fixed through a cult to archaism and the ruins that recommended Buena Vista Social Club (1999, Wim Wenders), Balseros influenced on the political leading generalizations in both sides to record the huge catastrophes that took place in the private area.

However, One night and Balseros doesn´t stand alone on the film treatment of a painful and complex subject. On 2005, the Spanish Francisco Rodríguez had cast Cuban actors as famous as Daisy Granados, Alexis Valdés, Enrique Molina and Claudia Rojas to make in Spain, in the southern part of Tenerife, 90 miles, which deals about the tragic odyssey of a family while they cross the Florida Strait in a rudimentary raft. The Cuban-Spanish coproduction 90 miles managed to set a subject whose treatment was preceded by a documentary of the same title, on 2001, which focused on the matter of family separation, and, on 2003, the Argentine Jorge Dyszel had made ...Ah well, the ocean that was also starred by Cuban young actors.

And in this account, it is important to mention the first Cuban filmmaker who captured that phenomenon of collective insanity: Luis Felipe Bernaza (Pedro Cero per cent) declared himself independent filmmaker on 1994 and immediately he made the 40 minutes documentary Weather conditions. By interviewing some of the 35 thousands Cubans that left the country in less than two months, Bernaza made a work of such a shocking closeness because he likewise shows the mothers´ farewells and the remarkable testimonies of those who preferred to drown or to live in American jails better than in Cuba.

In more recent days, in the ICAIC Young Festival of 2012, the fiction short movie Outside received many awards; it was directed by the very young Vanessa Portieles and Yanelvis González, and its main characters were Mario Guerra and Isabel Santos. Outside takes place in the Havana of 1994. Its protagonist is a man who goes out of jail and comes across the street agitation of the so called Maleconazo (Seafront rush), and his family is decided to migrate to Miami in any way. The sympathy when dealing with its protagonist preferences and endurances prevails in Outside and it gives a singular perspective according to the very different possible concepts of personal realization and freedom, beyond the dichotomy of leaving or staying.

There have also been brief references to the raft-people crisis, and its aftermaths, in many other movies. To recall that black humor joke in The horn of plenty (2008, Juan Carlos Tabío) when some characters use an old car with an attached motor as a raft. The joke, framed in the best tradition of Cuban gags because it combines mocking and tragedy, is inspired on the true situation of twelve Cubans who, on 2003, used a Chevy truck that floated by a series of empty containers with a small propeller. According to the media, the raft-truck-people were sent back to Cuba, and the amphibian vehicle was sunken in the ocean to avoid people use it as a monument to the Cuban creativity. Laugh and delirium made their way through the raft night. 




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