Last Days in Havana: Sunshine and shadows in Cuba
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2017: Fernando Pérez declares his love for Cuba, its spirit and its people in this tale of two friends waiting for the end to come in a Havana that is a mere shadow of its former self
The news bulletin that Miguel (Patricio Wood) is listening to at the beginning of the film goes straight to the heart of the matter: Cuba is no longer what it was, but it doesn’t yet know what it will become. With Last Days in Havana [+see also:
film profile], screening as a special presentation at the Berlinale, Fernando Pérez introduces us to a no-man’s land where time stands still, inviting us to take a walk through two coexisting Havanas: the high-spirited city whose people take joy in the little they have (a bicycle, the urge to dance that rapidly spreads to every customer in a shop) and a capital abandoned to its fate, its once-regal architecture crumbling into dust.
The two faces of Cuba are represented in the film by two childhood friends, now comfortably in their forties, who we find sharing a flat — albeit temporarily. First, there’s Miguel, brooding and perpetually harassed, who, when he’s not washing dishes at a restaurant, spends his time looking after his friend Diego. Miguel is counting down the days and hours until he receives his visa for “Yuma”, as Cubans like to call the USA, and we see him fondly stroking the postcard from “Yanquilandia” that hangs on his kitchen wall, faithfully keeping him company in his uneventful daily grind. Diego (Jorge Martínez), on the other hand, is experiencing “last days” of an altogether different order: confined to his bed and in the final stages of AIDS, he has had to cling tightly to his independence and zest for life in order to cope with his family’s rejection. Diego is trying to squeeze the last drops out of a life that he will soon have to relinquish, however unwillingly, and that he has loved with every ounce of his being. His tenacity is so palpable that the viewer can’t help enjoying every moment spent by the side of this dying man, with his humour, tenderness and mischievous sense of irony.
Keeping both men company as they wait, through visits to Diego’s bedside and expeditions into town with Miguel we come across other characters and catch fleeting glimpses of modern-day Cuba, where the people no longer see any contradiction in begging for money and invoking religion while vilifying anyone suspected of betraying the revolution. Some leave, perhaps to do exactly the same things in a different place, and some are resolved to dig themselves out by any means — like the girlfriend of the handsome young mixed-race man, who would rather sell her body in downtown Havana than remain stuck where she is for ever. Others are happy to stay put, including Diego’s niece Yusisledi (Gabriela Ramos), a fearless teenage girl who may be lacking in restraint but has plenty of affection for sale, already carrying the next generation within her. It is Yusisledi who one day manages to bring together in Diego’s home all the members of the “family” that we’ve met over the course of the film, and it is she who Pérez has chosen to occupy this world on the edge of metamorphosis with her indestructible joie de vivre and her repertoire of sorrowful songs.
(Translated from French)