Fernando Pérez in His Metamorphosis

IN HIS METAMORPHOSIS

On Cuba - - CONTENTS - Mónica Rivero y Milena Re­cio

If there is some­one for whom Havana is a set that is Fernando Pérez. Here are his films, brew­ing in plain view. He feels them and he films them: Clan­des­ti­nos, Mada­gas­car, Hello Hem­ing­way, La vida es sil­bar, Suite Ha­bana, José Martí. El ojo del ca­nario, Madri­gal, La pared de las pal­abras, and an­nounced for next De­cem­ber is the premier of Úl­ti­mos días en La Ha­bana, his most re­cent pro­duc­tion.

Fernando Pérez talks with OnCuba and de­scribes his film as a “happy drama” that started hav­ing a ti­tle only apt for Cubans. “In this film, for rea­sons that the spec­ta­tors will dis­cover when they see it, the ti­tle ‘Chupa pir­ulí’ [Lol­lipop lick­ing] at­tracted me a great deal. The im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was laugh­ter or con­fu­sion. ‘Is it a com­edy?’ ‘No, it’s not a com­edy, it’s a happy drama.’ And the con­fused would say to me: ‘But that isn’t one of your films.’” Co­pro­ducer José María Mo­rales ad­vised that a sec­ond ti­tle be found, more “in­ter­na­tional,” and that’s how Úl­ti­mos días… came up, which when screened in Havana will keep the wink of the ini­tial ti­tle.

Úl­ti­mos días en La Ha­bana or Chupa pir­ulí hopes to rep­re­sent the drama of the ma­jor part of the Cuban pop­u­la­tion in its sur­vival, “where there are many prob­lems, many dark days, but in which, de­spite this, Cubans man­age with a pos­i­tive charge that bal­ances and pre­vents the cri­sis from be­ing greater.”

That du­al­ity in us, the Cubans, is not only seen as a virtue, it has also been crit­i­cized as a de­fect.

I thought about that when mak­ing the film, but I didn’t work that as­pect. Its fun­da­men­tal charge is not crit­i­cism. I didn’t want to crit­i­cize the char­ac­ters or the re­al­ity; I wanted to show them as they are in their com­plex­ity, in their am­biva­lence. Some­how, the in­ten­tion is to make Suite Ha­bana 10 years later and in the fic­tion style, with char­ac­ters that are in the same en­vi­ron­ment, but liv­ing it an­other way.

It is a fic­tion movie, with well- known ac­tors like Jorge Martínez and Pa­tri­cio Wood, try­ing to main­tain an im­pres­sion of re­al­ity, be­cause it is an ab­so­lutely re­al­is­tic film. Its lan­guage does not priv­i­lege too much the sym­bols, the metaphors…. Al­though there are times where it also opens up so spec­ta­tors can par­tic­i­pate in in­di­vid­ual, sub­jec­tive as­so­ci­a­tions. It is a very unas­sum­ing film. The sub­ject of the film is prej­u­dices and the rel­a­tiv­ity of the moral val­ues at all lev­els.

Is it in­spired on cer­tain per­sons, or it is a mix­ture of sev­eral?

What at­tracted me about the project pre­sented to me by Abel Ro­dríguez, a young am­a­teur writer that got to my home with the core of that script, was pre­cisely that they were real char­ac­ters, in an en­vi­ron­ment that has to be well- known from within to be able to write about them. And that’s what we have tried to main­tain in the shoot­ing. Úl­ti­mos días… had to make the char­ac­ters cred­i­ble through good ac­tors ca­pa­ble of mak­ing good char­ac­ter­i­za­tions. Diego, the pro­tag­o­nist, is in the fi­nal stage of AIDS; Miguel is a very in­tro­verted char­ac­ter.

The fact of not ap­peal­ing to dif­fi­cult or too sym­bolic metaphors, as­pects that have been very per­sis­tent in your work, means a mu­ta­tion of Fernando Pérez?

In my first two films, Clan­des­ti­nos and Hello Hem­ing­way, I felt I had to prove my­self that I was ca­pa­ble of telling a story and mak­ing the char­ac­ters cred­i­ble. Han­dling a sym­bolic lan­guage, ex­press­ing the sub­jec­tiv­ity of the char­ac­ters, their psy­cho­log­i­cal depth, were for me the most im­por­tant when I started mak­ing movies.

To­day I be­lieve it’s equally dif­fi­cult to make a fic­tion film. With Mada­gas­car I wanted a re­al­is­tic lan­guage; I wanted to delve in depth into the im­prints that the Spe­cial Pe­riod was be­gin­ning to leave on my gen­er­a­tion and on that of my chil­dren. That’s why I started work­ing the metaphor and from there I con­tin­ued with La vida es sil­bar and Suite Ha­bana which, even while be­ing a doc­u­men­tary, re­sorts to an as­so­cia­tive lan­guage and has se­quences with many metaphors.

Then there was Madri­gal, where there are as­so­ci­a­tions, metaphors and bare­handed sym­bols…. It is my ac­cursed film. I like it

but al­most no one likes it. José Martí… is again a fic­tion film and the same oc­curs with La pared de las pal­abras, where life sto­ries are told, but there are sit­u­a­tions and se­quences that in­vite the spec­ta­tors to make read­ings that do not di­rectly emerge from the story told.

With Úl­ti­mos días en La Ha­bana a bit of that oc­curs. It is a min­i­mal­ist movie, one of the chal­lenges for me was even the long se­quences and I want to see how the spec­ta­tors re­act to this. There are no recher­ché mise- en-scenes or that are too built up. It as­pires to a very im­pec­ca­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the spec­ta­tors, and that they for­get they are watch­ing a film.

Many of the se­quences were filmed with a hid­den cam­era in the street. That is some­thing I am do­ing since La pared de las pal­abras, I do not in­clude ex­tras. And, ac­tu­ally, peo­ple let them­selves be filmed here in Cuba. That is price­less.

Which Havana ap­pears in the film, tak­ing into account, more­over, that it is a city in fash­ion?

The Havana I walk the most, which is Cen­tro Ha­bana, Cerro, Po­golotti…. The Havana that is de­fined as the deep Havana, which is the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive but the less rep­re­sented in our me­dia and in the me­dia abroad. And when it is rep­re­sented, be­cause Ri­hanna is com­ing, it is styl­ized; be­cause the ugly and the dirty can have beauty and can be­come a mise- en-scene. We toured, look­ing for lo­ca­tions, a great many ten­e­ment houses and in each one the same in­hab­i­tants, the same ex­pe­ri­ences are re­peated. In the ten­e­ment house where we filmed, the neigh­bors’ col­lab­o­ra­tion was spe­cial. That’s where I most like to film. It is a space where I feel there is a barom­e­ter to take the tem­per­a­ture of our re­al­ity, more than in the of­fi­cial or other me­dia. But you have to live it.

Are you seek­ing some im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion with this film? What is the cit­i­zen film­maker try­ing to do with this film in 2016?

I want to share what I feel, what I see, with the peo­ple that sur­round me, with those of us who are here, as well as with those who aren’t here, and dis­cuss and ref lect about that. I’m not one of those who be­lieve that a film changes re­al­ity, but I do think it helps to cre­ate an aware­ness, to get a feel­ing about that.

There are Cuban films that, in key mo­ments of re­cent his­tory, have been like a kick in the teeth. Straw­ber­ryand Choco­late was one of them, just like SuiteHa­bana and Con­ducta. Could this film have the same ef­fect?

That de­pends on the spec­ta­tors. I thought Suite Ha­bana was go­ing to reach a pub­lic that was less wide and, all of a sud­den, the film went way be­yond those ex­pec­ta­tions that I had. It was a les­son. I be­lieve that to a great ex­tent the cir­cum­stances also de­ter­mined. It was Suite Ha­bana, but also the mo­ment. It could have been a play, a song or any other thing. But it was the film

that ap­peared at that time and it was syn­chro­nized with what the peo­ple felt. For me, each film is a risk. I see it and I rec­og­nize my­self in what I did. But I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen with it.

Fernando Pérez has a lead­ing po­si­tion, not just artis­tic but also as a hu­man be­ing; he is like the is­land is for many ship­wrecked peo­ple, where you can ar­rive and save your­self. Do you feel it like that?

No. No I don’t see it like that, for me that is too much. If there’s some­thing I as­pire to, it is to live my life as unas­sum­ingly as pos­si­ble, in harmony with my daily things.

A train, the sea, the rain…. Are they in Úl­ti­mos­díasen La Ha­bana?

There’s the city, there are no trains but there are ships, which I added at the last mo­ment. And, in­evitably, the rain and the sea.

Then, it’s the same Fernando Pérez….

Yes, al­though there are some

Im­ages of Úl­ti­mos días en La Ha­bana. Courtesy of Fernando Pérez Imá­genes de Úl­ti­mos días en La Ha­bana: Cortesía de Fernando Pérez

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