Fernando Perez’s Suite Habana, along with Michael Glawogger’s Workingman’s Death and Ashim Ahluwalia’s John & Jane Toll-Free, is part of a new breed of trance doc where artifice often overwhelms content—except it is the first of these films whose style not only corresponds with its setting but also captures its essence. Perez evokes a day in the life of 10 Habaneros as a symphony: his subjects are notes spread out across a music staff, rising and falling to the identity of a city: the crashing of waves, the thrusting of factory pistons, the flapping of pigeon wings, the clanking of traffic, a woman’s quintessentially Cuban screams for her child. But what version of Cuba is the film trying to sell? Like the paper sticks the sad Amanda Gautier sells around markets and squares, it’s an even-handed account whose content comes to us slowly like the rising tide. What’s so rich about this work is its meticulously complete picture of a city caught between decay and reconstruction. Perez does not pander to the Cubans who still believe in Castro’s revolution or the Miami Cubans who wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to stab Castro in the heart—he pitches his film to those with truth in mind. When a man leaves for Miami, Perez does not focus on the fascistic airport personnel who often humiliate people and pilfer their belongings, only the tears on people’s faces, which convey the pain associated with the difficulty of travel into and out of the country. But will non-Cubans get this implicit message given the documentary’s dissonant evocation of Cuba’s capital as a spirit in limbo, a creature trapped in amber? On the one hand, we see Cubans who are able to eat. On the other, we see a woman who counts each and every grain of rice that will make it into her supper bowl. (She does so because food is rationed in Cuba and sometimes littered with bugs, but that is context I know from personal experience—I was, so to speak, Made in Habana.) The joys and depressions of Cuba are echoed in the two sides of Perez’s characters: Iván Carbonell works in a hospital by day and moonlights as a drag queen; Juan Carlos Roque is a doctor with dreams of becoming an actor; and Ernesto Díaz works in construction by day and dances ballet by night. The timing of this film couldn’t be more perfect: opening in New York on the same day as The Lost City, it presents a corrective to Andy Garcia’s right-wing commemoration of his Cuban heritage and American-made privilege by showing us all of Havana, not just the part that most flatters its maker’s agenda.
- Cinema Tropical
- 82 min
- Fernando Perez
- Heriberto Boroto, Iván Carbonell, Francisco Cardet, Francisquito Cardet, Julio Castro, Ernesto Díaz, Amanda Gautier, Waldo Morales, Raquel Nodal, Norma Pérez, Jorge Luis Roque, Juan Carlos Roque
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