Everybody Leaves offers commentary on post-revolutionary Cuba. The film focuses on nine-year-old Nieve Guerra, a pawn in a war between her alcoholic father and artistic mother. Based on a novel by the same name by Cuban poet and novelist Wendy Guerra, Everybody Leaves (Todos Se Van) is meant to unravel like a ribbon, but instead unfolds in fragments that makes the story seem disjointed and it doesn't always succeed in revealing the profoundness of the characters' internal conflict.
Regardless, the film offers a window into a desperate circumstances that defined the Cuban revolution, and delivers with it impeccable prose by an internationally celebrated author.
Colombian director Sergio Cabrera adapted the novel for film, calling the book, "a song for freedom and a confrontation to authority." And that is a consistent theme throughout the film. The protagonists, artists in their own right, do not oppose revolution, but most certainly won't adhere to the restrictions it imposes: for example, Nieve's mother Eva refuses to be prohibited from playing Gilberto Noda on her radio show, simply because the musician publicly opposes the revolution. It's Eva's blatant disregard for the new government-imposed rules which set off a chain of events that completely disrupts the idyllic life Eva and her daughter were living in Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba.
This is the struggle of the characters of Everybody Leaves, one similarly faced by the majority of the Cuban population during the late 1970s. They toe the line between going unnoticed and maintaining their rights; between condoning the loss of liberty and a deep love of country. Through Nieve and Eva's story, we come to understand that the lines are easily blurred.
Eva, a divorced radio journalist, remarried to a Swedish engineer retained by the Cuban government to oversee the development of a nuclear power plant, lives in a spacious (government sanctioned) home on the beach in Cienfuegos with her husband and daughter Nieve.
Nieve's father Manuel, a failed actor turned puppet show playwright, stung by his shortcomings as artist and husband, won't tolerate his daughter's upbringing in the hands of a stranger. He wages a custody war that, due to Eva's assignment in Angola (a punishment for playing anti-revolutionary Noda on her show), he wins; Nieve is ripped from the arms of her mother without so much as a proper goodbye.
From the moment Nieve arrives to stay with Manuel, it's clear her presence is nothing more than a victory for her bitter father, who passes the time drinking and chasing after women. Often mistreating her, Nieve, an extraordinarily gifted and perceptive young girl, escapes, only to wind up in purgatory: her custody case remanded, She's sent to live at an orphanage while the court decides whether to return her to her mother. It's here that the injustice of the revolutionary government rears its ugly head, authorities put Nieve up for adoption despite her mother's struggle to bring her daughter home.
The film is loaded with powerful imagery that illustrates the frustration of coming face to face with a repressive government, and the unequivocal need to remain complacent in spite of the absurdity. Nieve has effectively been silenced and can't manage to tell the judge that she would rather live with her mother; she can't understand why the words she writes in her diary need to be censored by her teacher; and she doesn't see the harm in throwing herself off a table to escape her father's alcoholism and abuse.
This sensation of living between the prohibited and the obligatory is Guerra's ultimate story, and one that makes Everybody Leaves a film worth watching.
Everyone Leaves makes its North American premiere at the Miami International Film Festival at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 13 at 6:30 p.m. For more information visit miamifilmfestival.com.
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