A good year for Cuban cinema

Prior to the film premiere which took place at Havana's Charles Chaplin Cinema, the director held a press conference in the Fresa y Chocolate Cinematographic Cultural Centre where he spoke about the importance of fighting for what you love. Esteban explores the story of a misunderstood nine year old boy who dreams of learning to play the piano. Cosculluela chose Reynaldo Guanche to play the protagonist, who according to the director, required extensive preparation given the boys lack of a musical or acting background.

Versatile and renowned actress Yuliet Cruz plays Miriam, the pragmatic mother who can barely afford to buy Reynaldo school shoes, let alone piano lessons. Despite having taken on a similar role in Ernesto Daranas' multi-award winning film Conducta, playing the mother of the protagonist Chala, Cruz's talent and wealth of experience have allowed her to portray an entirely different kind of character.

The feature-length film, produced by Cuban record label Colibrí, RTV Comercial and Spanish firm Mediapro, also stars Cuban actors Manuel Porto, Raúl Pomares and Corina Mestre. The storyline, the music – written and interpreted by Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés (winner of four Grammy Awards) – and performances have won the film the approval of Cuban moviegoers.

Two other productions were premiered at the beginning of the year, La cosa humana, by renowned director Gerardo Chijona and another debut fiction film, Café amargo, by documentary maker Rigoberto Jiménez.

Despite the fact that his two most recent films Boleto al paraíso and Esther en alguna parte represent a departure from his preferred genre – sharp and socially critical comedy – Gerardo Chijona (director of the classic film Adorables mentiras) returns to humor with La cosa humana,a light-hearted comedy full of double meanings which explores the virtues and defects of human nature, hence the title.

Among the unique features of the film, produced by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), is its explicit homage to the art of film making, specifically the Coen brothers, Godfather trilogy and U.S. TV series The Sopranos.

La cosa humana's production team features many of the top names in Cuban cinema: cinematography, Raúl Perez Ureta; music, Edesio Alejandro; and editing by Miriam Talavera. However, the film's main attraction is its cast which includes the young Héctor Medina alongside veteran actor Vladimir Cruz (famous co-star of Fresa y Chocolate) in addition to the experienced Enrique Molina.

This cruel comedy also sees impeccable performances from top professionals such as Carlos Enrique Almirante, Amarilys Núñez, Marielis Ceja, Mario Guerra and Osvaldo Doimeadiós.

The other premier, Rigoberto Jiménez's debut picture Café amargo, tells the story of four sisters (played by Yudexi de la Torre, Yunia Jerez, Janet Batista and Venecia Lanz) who live alone in a coffee growing region of the Sierra Maestra.

The film takes place in two different time periods, firstly during the sisters' youth toward the end of the 1950s, while the second half of the film (starring Coralia Veloz, Adela Legrá, Oneida Hernández and Mirelys Echenique as the now older sisters) takes place during the 1990s. The male characters are played by the young Carlos Alberto Méndez and Raúl Capote.

The script for Café amargo, written by Arturo Arango and Xenia Rivery, received an award in the Haciendo cine (Making film) competition, part of the ICAIC sponsored young filmmakers event, Muestra Joven. Café amargo, an independent production, also received the support of ICAIC, the International Film School, Televisión Serrana (Cuban rural TV) and the Martin Luther King Centre in Havana.

Yet to be premiered nationwide, but previously screened during the Muestra Joven 2016 event, is the feature-length fiction film Últimos Días en La Habana, a Cuban-Spanish co-production and most recent offering from multi-award winning director Fernando Pérez.

National Film Prize winner, Pérez is a filmmaker who has captured the attention of audiences since his debut work Clandestinos (1987), followed by highly successful films Hello Hemingway (1990), anthological picture Madagascar (1994) La vida es silbar (1998), Suite Habana (2003), José Martí: El ojo del canario (2011), La pared de las palabras (2015).

Últimos días en La Habana is a simple film with a strong story line. Pérez himself notes, "Like all my films I have given myself challenges. In this case my greatest challenge was having the story take place 75% of the time in just one room. It was something I had never done before and I really wanted to experience."

Últimos Días en La Habana explores the relationship of a man dying of AIDS with his environment and relations; with celebrated actors Jorge Martínez and Patricio Wood taking on the film's lead roles.

Premiered recently is Leontina, a feature-length film by Rudy Mora (Y sin embargo…, 2012) starring well-known actors Corina Mestre, Fernando Hechavarría and Blanca Rosa Blanco.

The synopsis for this fantasy film reads: "In search of adventure, a young boy organizes an expedition to El Legionario, a remote store which sells candy at a certain time of day. On the journey the characters come across a strange town and face obstacles placed in their way by some of the powerful residents. However, the children's fascination with Rodrigothe bizarre owner of El Legionario, and the store itself changes everything."

Meanwhile, Cuban director Lester Hamlet has recently finished his third feature-length fiction film, Ya no es antes, starring Isabel Santos and Luis Alberto García (who have worked together since the classic picture Clandestinos).

Ya no es antes returns to the theme of migration and family separation, two common issues in Cuban film; and is inspired by one of Alberto Pedro's most popular plays from the 1980s, Weekend en Bahía. With photography by Raúl Pérez Ureta (long-time collaborator with Fernando Pérez and Gerardo Chijona), the film is an ICAIC production.

The premieres are set to continue through the year as Esteban Insausti (Larga distancia, 2010) has already begun to film his new feature-length fiction Club de jazz, also produced byICAIC.

This film tells the story of an old jazz club which is about to be demolished, and is explored through the lives of three different generations of musicians; while the cast includes Álvaro Rodríguez, Raúl Capote, Yasel Rivero, Héctor Noas, Samuel Claxton, Yailene Sierra, Alicia Hechavarría, Mario Balmaseda and Luis Alberto García.

Premieres, recent projects, post-productions, and films in the making all point to another good year for Cuban film.

Original article here