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30 of the best contemporary Cuban movies (2006-2011)

By Silvia Gomez / Posted January 24, 2012

1 Nothing Juan Carlos Cremata (2001)


A young woman, who works in a post office and whose parents emigrated to Miami, rewrites letters to improve the lives of its recipients. When she is notified that she has been granted a visa to travel to the US, she must decide whether to leave and get on with her life or to stay and continue helping others. In this his first film, Cremata?an audacious director who does not follow well-trodden paths?uses discreetly the techniques of comics and animated film, enriching the story with a combination of satire and teasing humour. Coral Best First Work, International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, 2001; Vesubio Award, Naples Film Festival, 2002; Best Full-Length Fiction Film, Miami International Film Festival, 2003, among others.

2 Family Video Humberto Padrón (2002)


When a family decides to tape a video-letter for a son who has been living abroad for four years, contradictions, self repressions and heartbreaks come to the surface. A catalogue of ideological, racial and sexual prejudices present in many contemporary Cuban families. Notable for the authenticity of the situations portrayed as well as the actors” solid performances. Coral for Best Short Film, International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, 2001; Best Short Film, Latino Film Festival, Los Angeles, 2001, among others.

3 Suite Habana Fernando Pérez (2003)


Revealing the anguish, frustrations and hopes of people who live in corners of Havana that are never included in package tours, this film both moves and shocks by its poignancy. A striking feature is the fact that the director chose to focus on the images in an intense dialogue with music, and where no words are spoken precisely in a society that is characterized by its loquacity. First Prize at the Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, 2003; and SIGNIS Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival, 2003.

4 Perfect Wrong Love Gerardo Chijona (2004)


The film tells the story of a once—famous writer who, together with his literary misfortune, is now going through a deep crisis in his relationship with his wife, lover and daughter. A sarcastic look at double moral standards and ambiguous behaviour, which takes up again a set of ideas explored in a previous film by this director, Adorables mentiras.

5 Viva Cuba Juan Carlos Cremata (2004)


Set in the 1990s, this road movie of a girl and a boy who travel from Havana to the easternmost tip of Cuba is an ode to friendship and the simple daily experiences that conform the meaning of homeland, as well as a call for respecting children”s needs, concerns and contradictions, so often overlooked by adults. The film”s many awards and recognitions are justified not only for the amazing performance of its two young lead actors but for the message of humanism it puts across. Grand Prix Ecrans Juniors, Cannes, 2005; Best Film, International Children”s Film Festival, L”Aisne, France, 2006; Best Film, Wurzburg International Film Festival, Germany, 2006; Best Film, Internationale Kinder Film Festival, Bremen and Hannover, Germany, 2006, among others.

6 Neighbourhood Cuba Humberto Solás (2005)


The struggle to achieve happiness, to regain or attain love, to maintain personal dignity in the midst of hostile circumstances, marks the film”s characters who go from one neighborhood to another in present-day Havana. Excellent direction. Audience Award, Huelva Film Festival, 2005; special Jury Prize and Best Actress (ex aequo), International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, 2005; Best Actress, Ceará, Film Festival, Fortaleza, Brasil, 2006.

7 The Wall Alejandro Gil (2006)


According to the director, “the lead character cuts himself off from the surrounding reality and only watches TV. And what does he see? Wars, assaults, invasions, violence in great quantities. So he secures his own reality: a window on the wall where he always sees a girl with a bunch of flowers. It is a film of concepts that uses a language with much inner world to it, a film that will demand an active and less contemplative viewer.” Aesthetically different from usual Cuban filmmaking, which is in general much attached to realistic codes.

8 The Awkward Age Pavel Giroud (2006)


With a celebrated recreation of 1950s Havana, the film deals with the emotional universe of a child bordering on adolescence, compelled by the circumstances to live with both mother and grandmother, and who is torn between the effort of trying to understand the older generation and his own doubts, insecurities, wishes and contradictions in that difficult time in life that parents call “the awkward age”. Best Photography and Art Direction, International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, 2006.

9 El Benny Jorge Luis Sánchez (2006)


Second attempt to portray on the silver screen the life of who is perhaps the most popular Cuban musician of all time, Benny Moré, a man of complex personality who led a disorganized life, a rebel, an inveterate drinker, but with an extraordinary musical talent which made him the people”s idol. In spite of the efforts to characterize the legendary figure and the use of footage from the real—life Benny, the film has been criticized by the public who remembers the powerful magnetism of this showman par excellence. However, the film has a respectable narrative structure and his unforgettable songs are most appreciated. Coral to Best First Work, International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana, 2006.

10 Tomorrow Alejandro Moya (2006)


The most sought-after by younger audiences during the 2006 Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema and one of the very few independent films in Cuban cinema made after 1959, its list of associate producers singer—songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, Juan Formell, director of the Los Van Van band, as well as artists Kcho and Ernesto Rancaño, among others. In video clip style, it takes an incisive and unbiased look at today”s Cuban reality, its conflicts and contradictions. Although not the masterpiece its most ardent supporters claim, it is a breath of fresh air in the Island”s filmmaking and a gauge of the views and concerns of a sector of the younger Cuban intelligentsia.

11 Páginas del diario de Mauricio [Pages from Mauricio’s Diary] (2006) Manuel Pérez


The intimate drama about the generations in Cuba that entered the 21stcentury as adults, with the disconcerting political, economic and social turmoil which entailed the fall of “real socialism” in Europe is explored through Mauricio’s life, a 60-year-old man who turns 60 after a failed marriage and his daughter”s decision to live outside Cuba. How to readjust his ethical and ideological standards shaped over a lifetime to the new circumstances, and how to survive without giving up certain values is the challenge faced by the character, in a film where everything is discreet, from the performances to the general tone, devoid of fatalisms, grandiloquence or pamphleteering.

12 La noche de los inocentes [The Night of the Innocent] (2007) Arturo Sotto


A young man—apparently a transvestite—who has been beaten, is abandoned at the Emergency Room of a Havana hospital on December 28, which is the equivalent in Spanish-speaking countries to April Fool’s Day. The nurse who sees him convinces her boyfriend, an ex-policeman, to investigate the matter so that he can get his job back. With the investigation, the conflicts, passions and secrets of a family come to the surface. With Jorge Perugorría—the unforgettable Diego in Fresa y Chocolate—in the leading role as the ex-cop, and a detective plot mixed with comic elements and social examination, the film won the Special Jury Prize at the Biarritz Film Festival in 2007.

13 Omerta (2008) Pavel Giroud


After the success of his first film, La edad de la peseta, Giroud, who is very fond of reproducing the atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, presents this drama, which, in a humoristic and ironic manner, makes use of classical film noir conventions to narrate the last mission of an old ex-bodyguard of a famous gangster: to find the gold that is hidden in the former mansion of his ex boss, who left the country after the triumph of the Revolution. This act forces him to test his capacity as a hard-boiled character when he is surrounded by a group of policemen. Coral to Best Screenplay at the 27thHavana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

14 Personal Belongings (2008) Alejandro Brugués


The love between a young man who for years has gone from embassy to embassy trying to leave the country, lives inside his car and keeps his belongings in a small case, and a young doctor who lives alone because her family left for the US on a raft and she didn’t want to go with them, is the pretext used by the young director of this film to offer his personal view of a theme that has been revisited insistently in Cuban art and literature: emigration and the laceration that it implies. Prize to Best Rough Cut of a Full-Length Fiction Film at the 5th International Cine Pobre Festival, 2007 and Special Jury Prize at the same festival in 2008.

15 Kangamba (2008) Rogelio París


Based on one of the bloodiest battles waged by the Cuban troops in Angola, when in 1983 a small group of men resisted the attack of thousands of soldiers of the UNITA opposing forces group in an area the size of a football field, its director calls it “an intimate film,” but falls somewhere between the classic war drama, which would have required greater resources and expertise in special effects, and the intimism that requires greater psychological depth of characters and impeccable performances.

16 El viajero inmóvil [The Motionless Voyager] (2008) Tomás Piard


To penetrate the complex and at times cryptic universe of the Cuban narrator, poet and essayist José Lezama Lima was the challenge undertaken by Tomás Piard in a difficult film in which three narrative levels are interwoven: the philology student who interviews Lezama for his degree thesis; friends and researchers of Lezama’s work who visit the poet’s home and attend the dinner party organized by a character in his novel Paradiso, during which some of them offer their appraisals on Lezama and his work; and climactic moments in Paradiso, which has strong biographical connotations.

17 Fuera de liga [Out of the League] (2008) Ian Padrón


Rarely does a documentary shake and move the audience like Out of the League. Focusing on the Havana Industriales baseball team (something like the New York Yankees), Ian Padrón has composed a masterpiece that is enjoyed as if it were a feature film, delving into the team’s history through new or old images and the participation of players or fans who live in Cuba and abroad, who talk candidly and uninhibitedly not just about baseball. Despite its limited release in Cuba, perhaps because it ventures into the controversial issue of Cuban baseball players who play professional baseball, it received the Best Picture award at the 2008 National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Film Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

18 La anunciación (2009) [The Annunciation] Enrique Pineda Barnet


An old woman who is a Spiritualist becomes a widow and decides to falsify her husband’s “moral testament” in order to try to bring together her family, who has drifted apart due to issues of physical distance and ideological differences: her youngest son, who is a musician, poet and bohemian; her oldest son, an engineer who is identified with the Revolution and lives in a small town in another province; her daughter, an architect who immigrated to the US; and her 10-year-old grandson who lives with her as well as her youngest son. When she tries to contact the spirit of her dead husband, he uses their grandson as medium to discover where the true document is hidden. Insisting on a key issue in Cuban society, immigration and its repercussions, Pineda Barnet, after several years without making a film in Cuba, calls for tolerance and the preservation of family ties.

19 Lisanka (2009) Daniel Díaz Torres


At a time prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which put the world on the verge of a nuclear conflict, in an imaginary town in Cuba, two young men who are competing for the love of the prettiest girl in town, are threatened by the arrival of a dangerous rival represented by a Soviet soldier. Inserting an individual story within History and reflecting the optimism and the joie de vivre that the Cuban people never lost even during those difficult times has been the objective of Díaz Torres, who has confirmed his choice of humour as a serious expressive instrument as demonstrated in other films, such as, Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas, Kleines Tropicana and Hacerse el sueco.

20 El cuerno de la abundancia [The Horn of Plenty] (2009) Juan Carlos Tabío


The news that the members casino online of a Cuban family could receive an inheritance of millions unleashes tragicomic situations, which are skilfully used by the director to delve into today’s Cuban reality: “The movie shows Cuba’s reality, with its conflicts, its needs, the aspirations and endeavour of the Cuban people to march forward.” The film received the Third Coral and the First Coral Prize for Best Script at the 30th International Festival of Latin American Cinema; the Special Jury prize at the 49th International Cinema Festival in Cartagena, Colombia; the Silver Astor to the cast and the Prize of the Public during the 29th International Film Festival at Mar de Plata in 2009.

21 El premio flaco [The Booby Prize] (2009) Juan Carlos Cremata


Based on the successful play of the same name by the famous Our bedste online casino ensures that all players have an equal, and fair, chance of striking it rich and walking away a winner through a number of safeguards. Cuban playwright Héctor Quintero, and described by the director as a “sad comedy,” the film is set in Havana, 1958, and tells the story of a humble and generous woman whose luck changes when, inside a bar of soap, she finds a prize in the form of a new house. The film received awards by the Educational Films Centre and the National Federation of Cinema Clubs during the 31st International Festival of Latin American Cinema in 2009, and ACE Awards 2011, by the Association of Entertainment Critics of New York, for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

22 Los dioses rotos >[The Broken Gods] (2009) Ernesto Daranas


The research conducted by a young sociologist about the legendary Cuban pimp Alberto Yarini Ponce de León, member of a wealthy Havana family who was murdered in the San Isidro neighbourhood in 1910 by a French souteneur, takes her into today’s subworld of prostitution and pimping and involves her in a plot that increasingly develops into a tragedy, where the past seems to come to life in Havana’s marginal neighborhoods today. Excellent performances; coherent use of elements of melodrama, documentary and video clip; credible and at the same time grisly characters are some of the virtues that make Ernesto Daranas’s first feature movie one of the most significant Cuban films in recent years, winner of several awards at the 30th International Festival of Latin American Cinema and the 6th Cine Pobre Festival, both in 2008, as well as winner for Best Art Direction and Best Music at the 17thProvidence Latin American Film Festival in the United States in 2009.

23 El ojo del canario [The Eye of the Canary] (2010) Fernando Pérez


El ojo del canario is undoubtedly the most significant film made in Cuba in the 21st century, so far. Based on the childhood and adolescence of José Martí, Apostle of the independence of Cuba, the film turns away from the hackneyed biographies of patriots and portrays a human being within a difficult family environment, filled with the typical contradictions and insecurities of a teenager in 19th-century Havana. The film’s excellent atmosphere and outstanding performances were pivotal to the awards received by the film not only in Cuba, but also at the Ibero-American Film Festival of Huelva, Spain in 2010 for Best Direction; and at the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences in 2011 for the Best Ibero-American Film (ex aequo).

24 Casa vieja [The Old House] (2010) Léster Hamlet


Based on the play by Cuban playwright Abelardo Estorino but interpreted in a very contemporary key, with a solid script and compelling performances, Casa viejadelves into the drama of the Cuban family, often divided not only by distance but also by prejudice. The director has said that “it is a film that is filled with my own pain, my own thoughts…a film that narrates a story from history, tells unvarnished truths, and tells home truths with courage” and perhaps it was this courage that won the film the Audience Award at the Havana Latin American Film Festival.

25 Afinidades [Affinities] (2010) Jorge Perugorría y Vladimir Cruz


After much expectation, the film garnered a lukewarm reception by the critics. Acted and directed by the two protagonists of the anthological Strawberry and Chocolate, the movie explores sex as a means of manipulation and escape from an existential void. A boss who takes advantage of his employer’s fear of losing a lucrative job, the boss’ wife who is ready and willing to enjoy new experiences, the employee’s wife, who awakens from her naivety to the call of instinct, a man torn between fear, insecurity and pleasure from the unknown make up the central cast of this film, which would have needed more solid performances and a less verbalistic script least, although it is appreciated for its excellent photography, effective art direction, new theme in Cuban cinema and disturbing eroticism, which is unusual in Cuban filmmaking.

26 Habanastation (2011) Ian Padrón


Highly acclaimed in Cuba and selected as the Cuban entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards, Habanastation is a sort of Prince and the Pauper in its own particular manner. Two children from very different social backgrounds, behaviors and ways of life–and with them, in the words of the film’s director, “the different Havanas that coexist in Cuba”–are able to create a true friendship. Moving away from the stereotype that anyone with money is “bad” and all poor people are “good,” Padrón has managed to make a dynamic and entertaining film with good performances, thanks to the important role played by the The Colmenita Children’s Theater Company.

27 Boleto al Paraíso [Ticket to Paradise] (2011) Gerardo Chijona


Described by Variety magazine as a “memorable, honest and unforgettable drama,” Boleto al Paraíso is based on a number of testimonies gathered in the book “AIDS: Confessions to a Doctor,” by Dr. Jorge Perez Avila. The director and co-writer Gerardo Chijona put aside his love of comedy and immersed himself into the story of a group of young people who have been so badly mistreated by life that they consciously become infected with HIV AIDS in order to be admitted to what they consider is paradise: a sanatorium that ensures them shelter, food and care. With a healthy economy of resources, the director more than succeeded what he had set out to do: a memorable love story “with signs of Greek tragedy, devoid of fanfare, trumpeting or whimpering.”

28 Juan de los muertos (2011) Alejandro Brugués


Havana invaded by zombies; the media that insists on accusing imperialism and dissidents; a scoundrel–Juan–who takes advantage of the circumstances to get ahead. Special effects never seen before in Cuba, good photography, regular performances, but most of all fun, irony, and even sarcasm in its way of approaching reality, guarantees to draw audiences that are eager for some fun and excess.

29 Vinci (2011) Eduardo del Llano

Under the principle that “we must not let allow universality to come only from Hollywood,” director Eduardo del Llano has set the plot of his first feature film in Florence, 1476, when the young apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci, was accused of sodomy and imprisoned together with a thief and a murderer, and would have to use his genius as a means of survival. The film’s photography, art direction, including drawings expressly made by the famous Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo, and the solid performances are among its trump cards.

30 Chamaco (2011) Juan Carlos Cremata


Respectfully following Abel González Melo’s play, Chamaco crudely reveals both poetry and the sordidness of the world that moves at night in Havana. Considered by Cremata himself as “a harsh, dark, difficult film, which at the time I described as cursed,” Chamaco shows a stark Havana whose characters are marked by tragedy, like the father magnificently portrayed by the actor Aramís Delgado, who sleeps with the murderer of his son, a young man who has chosen prostitution as his way of life.

Silvia Gomez

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