Cubans, cinema and the year they’re leaving

By: Xavier Carbonell

From both carrying statistics, counting failures, canceling projects and closing doors, admitting that 2020 has us bored is a symptom of good mental health. Coronavirus not only saturates healthcare systems, but radio, television and social media harass us to fatigue with numbers and tips that are no longer desperate for tools. That is why saying boredom – rather than salting, exhaustion, tiredness – is almost elegant, healthy, especially coming from the Cuban, improvised doctor of himself and first commentator of his misfortunes.

Let us return in time to the uncorked bottles on December 31 of last year, when the newscast wanted to water the party with another nefarious juncture, today almost a minor misfortune: more than one housewife has wondered what we did to 2020 to make us look so bad boy, executioner of our illusions – quite battered already – and as durable as months has.

It seems, however, that everything is happening and that 2020 gets old, like the old man that the ancient almanaques drew to represent the veteran year. And everyone has sought, in these long weeks at home, methods to anesthetize the discomfort of not being able to make civilized and social life.

I imagine the bills have already been done, but on Amazon and Netflix they must have miraculously multiplied their millions with two needs: sending food and necessities to the house, and entertainment for the crowd stuck on the couch. That happens on other banks, always remote, from which we get news and digital telegrams. But the Cuban does not have Amazon, but vociferous and sweaty tails – more Amazonian than the company in question; it doesn’t have Netflix, but the humble package that is monastically copied from neighbor to neighbor; in fact, it often doesn’t even have a sofa, which discards all kinds of snout.

However, do not panic: with underdevelopment included, we remain educated, free and everything Martí dreamed of in his New York poverty. In fact, I would dare say that we still have privileges and gains – they are not the ones that are officially trumpeted, but they do have the most effective ones. Along with the squalid achievements we have had with the Internet (more communication with our families on the other side, greater access to certain media, other ways of telling the same story, etc.), the Cuban entrenches himself to an ancient method of cultivating himself.

I am talking about rereading, not only of retired books or magazines, but also of the films that have always inhabited our imaginary projector. They are films that we cite, that bring us to a happy moment of youth, scenes that furnished our sentimental upbringing. The Cuban has a particular fervor towards cinema, is an informed viewer and – although the rooms are empty – we still have the television, where in spite of our infamous programming, we are a little more owners than we want to see.

Packagers or memory fillers – the term reminds me of those who resurrected worn phosphors – are always ready to stuff our devices from the latest films, series or documentaries. And the Cuban, always well warned, knows what to order.

How many of us are left waiting for the last installment of Agent 007, No time to die, postponed for the third or fourth time? We wanted to see Daniel Craig’s latest performance as James Bond, the endearingly sexist spy, based on the old male canon of whiskey, weapons, cigar cigar and fancy suits. All this, we know, is part of an ancient order, now politically incorrect and condemned by radicalism, which flys any flag. (Some claim that, in the next film, James Bond will be played by a black actress, which I find as out of place as dressing Mary Poppins in a tuxedo; each in her craft.)

Woody Allen’s social media has long announced, on high, A rainy day in New York and also his next film. And the master’s fans crossed our fingers so that this time the film would be worthy of its director, and not a variant of the same themes, as happened with his previous films.

After Dumbo and The Lion King – none at the height of the lively original – we had to suffer Mulan, which was the last straw. I made a mental note of never having high expectations with Disney’s live action projects again. The same thing happened to me with Sonic, the blue hedgehog of video games; a master lesson in how to destroy a character, loved since childhood, with chilling performances – perhaps one of Jim Carrey’s worst.

But 2020, beyond the novelties, was the year in which we could see – with delicious lag – the films produced the previous year. Among the highest-grossing (not necessarily the best, of course) was the long-awaited end of the Marvel cycle. More than twenty films that had their place in Avengers: Endgame, a catastrophic game over time that involved hundreds of superheroes in the umpteenth apocalypse of fiction. Aladdin’s directors, in the same way of re-telling the story of the drawings, achieved a curious alchemy: turning a character of Chinese tradition, absorbed by the Arabs, into an Indian Bollywood musical. With these thunders, the pandemic seemed not to be the only cataclysm.

However, I believe that the legacy from one year to the next – and to the history of cinema – is justified by a fulminant, impeccable trilogy, which we have repeated time and time again on our screens: Parasite, Joker and 1917; followed closely by The Irishman and Jojo Rabbit. Parasite removed our entrails with a family drama that goes from comedy to horror, changing tone and atmosphere, shaking any expectation, in a master story that escapes all genres and labels.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Joker – vilified by the pacotilleros of the Orthodox fans of DC Comics – surpassed his predecessors Jack Nicolson and Heath Ledger (no one with a minimum of decency would compare him to Jared Leto). Showing the human contour of this character, related to the protagonist of Taxi Driver, was the gain of this rereading of the popular Batman villain. The symbolic impact of this new Joker was felt even in real anarchic protests, such as those in the film, where there were those who boxed the clown mask that can no longer believe in any system.

1917 is a story told without makeup, about a war that we have forgotten but that was one of the first symptoms that the world was wrong. In decent, if sometimes dry, performances, the conflict is brought to the privacy of a young soldier who loses everything, until only he remains, wielding the weapon, with nothing else to hold on to. Together with The Irishman – where Martin Scorsese grouped cinema’s most beloved mobsters, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro – and Jojo Rabit’s crooked imagination, these films ensured a less boring 2020 and somehow offered some comfort to the closure or reformulation of multiple film festivals.

The Two Popes was another film that unequided and provoked sharp observations about the inner life of the Church. A fictional conversation between Ratzinger and Bergoglio managed to bring even non-believers closer to the interesting transition between these pontiffs and what this meant for the Catholic faith. In addition to the performances of excellence, in his counterpoint, offered by the already consecrated Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.

Not to mention the extensive obituary that left us in 2020, which passed scythe to essential figures of the seventh art. Among the actors, we saw Sean Connery, the original Bond, split, remembered by cardinal films such as The Name of the Rose and Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. Other actors in classic films, also killed this year, were the unforgettable Kirk Douglas and the nonagenario Max von Sydow, who participated in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, known to younger viewers in Game of Thrones and Star Wars.

Indian actor Irrfan Khan, after a brilliant career that included Life of Pi and Jurassic World, died in a hospital in Mumbai; while Ian Holm, the elderly Bilbo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings, also died in London. Another regrettable decess was that of Chadwick Boseman, who had performed very decorously in Black Panther.

Cuba also suffered havoc on two beloved figures. Almost at the end of this work, I received the news of the death of Broselianda Hernández – drowned on the beaches of Miami, immortal as a new Ophelia – an endearing face fixed, among other films, by his incarnation of Leonor Pérez in Martí: the eye of the canary; and in Santa Clara, film critic Ileana Margarita Rodríguez left a remarkable void in the active cinematic life of the city.

Finally – and because writing cuttings is an un pleasant task for a Cuban – it is necessary to mention the teacher Ennio Morricone, whose contribution to film and his music does not even need to be detailed. The themes of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, The Mission and The God, the Bad and the Ugly, among dozens of films, are part of the musical memory of several generations.

For those who have been able to live it, and despite the pain from the losses caused by the pandemic, 2020 has been an opportunity to grow. Even if the Cuban’s real life doesn’t admit the cackling, stay home; even if it has to be integrated into the kilometer waiting lines; even if you lack the food, water, current and anesthetic flow of the Internet; However, we remain ready to hit all the balls to the salt flat, officially certified for the next five years.

In fact, the Cuban’s being and suffering are anchored to that strange consolation: the tragically wise, prodigiously cultured knowledge, capable of beating – rightly or wrongly – in the most scholarly of debates. Both in the cinemas that we cannot fill today, with our typical indiscipline, and in the rustic armchair of the room where I write this article, the Cuban remains faithful to culture, life and love of cinema. Ω

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