Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Cuba, Cinema and the Post-Revolutionary Public Sphere

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Cuba, Cinema and the Post-Revolutionary Public Sphere

Article excerpt

Résumé: Cet article examine le rôle du cinéma dans l'espace public post-révolutionnaire cubain. Utilisant l'idée de Miriam Hansen selon laquelle le cinéma est une sphère publique alternative, je trace deux espaces ouverts par le cinéma depuis la révolution de 1959 : l'espace littéral produit dans et au travers la projection des films et l'espace symbolique du texte filmique lui-même. Dans la première section de cet essai, je discute de la campagne pour le cinéma mobile des années 1960 et soutiens que le mouvement a contribué à la croissance de la sphère publique en intégrant les ruraux, marginalisés, dans une nation post-industrielle. Dans la seconde partie, je pose la question du cinéma cubain dans le contexte des conditions idéologiques limitées imposées par l'état. Je soutiens que l'on peut identifier des occurrences de « publicness » dans les signes et signaux donnés aux spectateurs dans les films populaires cubains.

Ideology and Ambiguity in Cuban Cinemagoing

On a trip to Havana I had the opportunity to watch the first run of the then newly released Cuban film, Omertà (Pavel Giroud, 2008), at the Yara, one of Havana's biggest and grandest movie theatres (fig. 1). Directed by young filmmaker Pavel Giroud, best known for his breakout film The Silly Age (La edad de la peseta, 2006), Omertà concerns a Havana gangster who is trying to put a team of criminals together to perform one last heist in the days immediately following the Cuban revolution in 1959. As most of his former conspirators have fled to the United States, the protagonist must organize a new team out of a band of local amateurs. While the film, a sleek international co-production with Spain, is largely forgettable, the film offered one striking and memorable moment during the screening J attended. In an early scene, the gangster is driving in a cab with a driver - and soon-to-be conspirator - listening to salsa music that the much older gangster does not enjoy. When the gangster asks him to change the station, the driver obliges, only to find the unmistakable voice of Fidel Castro orating on the next dial. As the gangster rolled his eyes sardonically, a huge bout of collective laughter erupted in the large theatre. It was a notable moment because it reminded me of the unique climate of filmgoing in Cuba, and specifically, the constant presence of ideology in revolutionary Cuba. Unlike the laughter felt watching a Hollywood comedy, the laughter that evening at the Yara seemed to speak to a complex ideological negotiation on the part of the authence. On the one hand, the laughter could be understood as a smug and contemptuous response directed at the gangster, a much-despised pre-revolutionary type, symptomatic of the worst of Cuba under Batista and frequently parodied in postrevolutionary Cuban cinema.1

In this instance, we witness the still persistent pleasure for Cubans in laughing at the misfortune of counter-revolutionaries, stripped of their ill-gotten power by the revolutionary government that rendered them obsolete and politically and economically impotent after 1959. At the same time, however, the film directs our laughter in another more politically ambiguous way. As much as we are invited to identify against the gangster, we also are invited - through the deliberate rolling of his eyes- to identify with his ironic commentary on Fidel's ubiquitous presence in Cuban media. This was certainly the most palpable feeling in the theatre authence's laughter, as the film invited a momentary but brazen opportunity for shared vocal critique of the longstanding political figurehead. In a small but unmistakable way, this moment indexed both a strong yet muted frustration with Fidel as well as the longstanding resentments of Cubans towards those who stand against Fidel, the Cuban revolution and its achievements.

This moment exemplifies the uniqueness of cinemagoing in an ideologically charged country like Cuba. It also illustrates the complex and ambiguous space occupied by cinema within this distinct national context. …

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