Fest Full of Film

The FIU Seventeenth Miami Film Festival

The comic surprisingly slips into the violent in certain moments, as Kitano's weathered hand reemerges. Ultimately Kikujiro is both beautiful and tender, exhibiting a wholly original visual style that is part Shinto, part vaudeville, but all Kitano. He has reaffirmed his place as an important figure in the world cinema. For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre, this is as good a point as any to jump aboard. -- Jonathan Lang

La Vida es Silbar (Life Is to Whistle)
For the first time in the event's seventeen-year history, the festival features a film made in Cuba by a director who still lives and works under communist rule. The inclusion in the festival of Life Is to Whistle by director Fernando Perez is less a sign of cultural opening on the mainland than an acknowledgement of a growing dissidence among filmmakers on the island.

The current reliance of the Cuban film industry on coproductions with European companies has loosened to a certain extent the control wielded by the Cuban film institute, the official government organization that oversees filmmaking in Cuba. A coproduction by the Cuban film institute and the Spanish corporation Wanda Distributions, Life Is to Whistle plays a dangerous game with the censors, delivering a barely encoded message.

Witnesses to Stalin's iron fist
Witnesses to Stalin's iron fist
Soccer madness hits the Himalayas
Soccer madness hits the Himalayas

Inspired by the Surrealist painter Magritte, Perez's contemporary Havana is swimming with dreamy juxtapositions of absurd images. Sex scenes are crosscut with snails. An underwater narrator (Bebe Perez) is kissed by a fish. But the debt to Magritte does not end there. The French artist shook the hold representational painting had on reality when he scrawled across his picture of a pipe: "This is not a pipe." When Perez follows three archetypal Cuban characters to Castro's Revolution Square, he proclaims in his own way: "This is not a revolution." Without losing the bite of Magritte's humor, Perez shows how the words repeated in Cuba for the past 40 years wreak violence on reality. Legions of Cubans faint in the street when they hear the hollow sounds of words such as morality and liberty.

Perez tears down revolutionary icons from the most lofty to the most mundane. The character Mariana (Claudia Rojas) is a ballerina of the new generation meant to carry on the legacy of dance legend and cultural dictator Alicia Alonso. Mariana's handling of Giselle, Alonso's most celebrated role, is a direct challenge to the revolution's authoritarian grip on culture. Male protagonist Elpidio Valdes (Luis Alberto Garcia) takes his name directly from a cartoon superhero broadcast on Cuban television in the 1970s that was invented to keep the minds of socialist tykes off the capitalist likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. In Perez's film the character once famed for fighting "against dollar and cannon" now trails tourists in search of greenbacks. A long-haired, pot-smoking ne'er-do-well, Elpidio is frequently visited by his conscience. Rather than the voice of Che Guevara's New Man, the moral imperative of this imperfect son of socialist society sings with the raspy voice of the sad-faced, dark-skinned prerevolutionary crooner Bola de Nieve (Snowball).

If some familiarity with recent Cuban history is required to decipher these revisions of the revolution, other aspects of Life Is to Whistle verge on the obvious. The mother who rejects Elpidio despite his undying love for her is named "Cuba." Nearly every character in the film is an orphan who declares at some point: "I never knew my parents either." Ringing from the cold orphanages of Havana to the comfortable homes of exiles in Miami, this symbolic lament of the abandoned children of the revolution might be the most powerful reason of all to see the film here. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado

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