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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le film dont les princes sont des enfants

by Dominique Widemann

A Film Whose Shining Stars Are Children

Translated Friday 13 October 2006, by Helen Robertshaw

A Cuban film which is young at heart

Cuba: After achieving success at many film festivals and in all the countries in which it was shown, Viva Cuba has finally arrived in France. Recommended to cinema-goers of all ages.

Viva Cuba,
by Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti,
Cuba-France. 1 h 20.

Finally, the jewel in the crown of Cuban film director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti has reached our cinema screens. The list of prizes and nominations awarded to Viva Cuba would occupy a lengthy paragraph. Those who have been lucky enough to see the film in various festivals have spread the word; their commentaries have consistently been peppered with laudatory adjectives and have been accompanied by broad smiles. The first Cuban film ever to be awarded the ‘Grand Prix Écrans Juniors’ for children’s cinema at Cannes (2005), an immense success in Cuba... And with good reason!

From the credits onwards, the film establishes a tone of subtle joyfulness with the view of a young pair of hands clinging to the top of a wall, immediately followed by a thoroughly mischievous little face. The hands and the face belong to Jorgito (Jorgito Milo Avila), who is playing war games with his friends in the universal tradition of all kids, punctuated by cries of “You’re dead ! - No, I’m not...” in all childish seriousness. But it is with a girl, Malu (Malu Tarrau Broche), that Jorgito is most likely to battle it out with. Children of Havana, they share a beautiful friendship, while their mothers glare nastily at each other over the top of their respective balconies. Malu’s mother, born into the pre-revolutionary Cuban bourgeoisie, looks down her nose at Jorgito’s parents. The little boy’s parents, committed revolutionaries, think their neighbour is a pretentious shit. The Capulet and Montague families are thus placed in opposition, in the mode of Cuban society.

The family conflicts certainly spice up and are played off against the amorous quarrels of the two children, but the children themselves want above all to grow up, in order to be able to escape a situation which is beyond their comprehension. And, while they wait, exchange secret vows of love.
The theme of exile, which Cremata Malberti has already explored in his first feature-length film, Nada Más, re-emerges here in the desire which haunts Malu’s mother, a divorcee, whose only reason for staying in Cuba is a doddery old grandmother. The grandmother eventually passes away, but she doesn’t escape a certain mocking treatment on the part of the director who shows her with her mouth daubed in purple paint by Malu, as if wearing a clown’s death mask. However, during the funeral, evocative piano music accompanies the flow of heartfelt tears, as Cremata, throughout the film, alternates between the emotions which collide within the child’s world which we never leave.

Malu doesn’t want to leave. Jorgito doesn’t want her to leave. During one of the most beautiful scenes in a film which is full of such scenes, the two children experience the pain of heartbreak, as they sit on a terrace which is overlooked in the background by the old balusters of a former colonial house. A panoramic shot which opens out at the end onto a view of the city and beyond the setting sun will mark out their journey in the eternal sky, from the realisation of their separation to its impossibility. And so they will have to run away, in the hope that they find Malu’s father before he signs the authorisation to leave the country.

The second part of the initiatory journey will unfold from then onwards on foot, by train, bus, boat and bicycle, peppered with all the little naughty tricks of their clandestine life, sketched out in the comical nature of relations between boys and girls. Sitting beneath the moon, if she believes that the stars are the souls of nice people who, once dead, are transformed into stars by God, whereas he only sees fireballs, together they look for shooting stars.
The landscape across which the camera travels brings to life, in colour, the same landscape figured so beautifully already in the film Soy Cuba, by the director Mikheil Kalatozishvili; but a field of sugar cane in the wind or the curve of a river are just as soon removed from the context of their magnificent beauty and brought back down to Earth with a fart that triggers uncontrollable laughter.

In the style of a fairytale, Jorgito and Malu meet various emblematic characters on their journey, such as the disturbing driver of a cart or the brave potholer who is as beautiful as Che himself. Whilst the whole country is searching for them, the learning experiences of Jorgito and Malu will draw to a close on an island which has its own role within the film, just as it does in the music (Amaury Ramirez Malberti and Slim Pezin) to which it is inextricably linked. If we add to this the talent of the young actors, regular participants with the Cuban theatre company La Cremata, here we have a family film, highly recommended to people of all ages.

Translated by Helen Robertshaw

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