Friday, November 20, 2015

"Return to Ithaca": a seriously good film about Cuba and a lost generation ... by gimleteye

I had been unaware of the independent film made by a French director, Laurent Cantet, "Return to Ithaca", playing now at the Coral Gables Cinema. The film scarcely wavers from a single set: a rooftop reunion of aging friends overlooking the Malecon in Havana. "Return" examines the regret, disappointment, and trauma of lives measured by the syncopated beat of ideology.

I've not seen many films that effectively transpose action suited for dramatic theater. The power of "Return to Ithaca" is in the revelation by each of the characters of stories that first feel static then fill with tension and catharsis.

The lives are not extraordinary. Canter, the director, understands how common experiences -- a car battery repairman, an artist reduced to painting kitsch that sells on tourist stands, an ophthamologist whose children have abandoned her, a small time bureaucrat -- all surviving on the kindness of strangers one way or another -- can elicit the deepest human emotions.

I had not spent much time reflecting on the lives of Cubans who chose to stay or to leave, now in their 60's. My generation.

In Miami, this generation bears the weight of exile, but for the most part were children who bear the scars, still, of an earlier generation. Most have adapted to and embraced life and opportunity in America. I hadn't spent much time reflecting on those who chose to stay in Cuba despite the disappointments of the revolution.

In the film, the regime is not mentioned a single time, but the revolutionary aspirations more than half a century old loom over the film from beginning to end. The imposition of ideology eventually, over time, corrupted these lives in different ways. The film makers are too smart to call Cuba, "a paradise lost". One character cannot imagine what Cuba is becoming; a simple thought that rips through enthusiastic news reports of thawing relations between the United States and Cuba. For the two hours given to reflect on these ideas and lives in Havana today, I was very grateful.
A terrace overlooking Havana, the sunset. Five friends gather to celebrate the return of Amadeo (Néstor Jimenez) after 16 years of exile. From dusk to dawn they reminisce about their youth, the group they used to be, the faith they had in the future ... but also their disillusionment. Winner of the Best Film prize at Venice Days, the indie sidebar of the Venice Film Festival, Return to Ithaca is the first film made in Cuba (albeit directed by Palme d'Or-winning French filmmaker Laurent Cantet) that deals directly with the shattered dreams of the generation that came of age on the island during the Cuban revolution. For laureate co-author Leonardo Padura, the film is "the story of a few lives, and through those lives, the story of my generation. It certainly isn't the only possible portrait but it is undoubtedly the reflection of the many uncertainties, hopes, accomplishments and frustrations of certain Cubans - cruelly tossed upon the winds of history into the open sea, where many cannot make out any safe harbor." Adds Cantet: "From the time we started talking about the film, the actors had only one thing in mind: for it to be made. For them it was important for this kind of catharsis to take place so they could finally say certain things, and so that cinema reflects their story and echoes their lives." With Isabel Santos, Jorge Perugorria, Fernando Hechavarria, Pedro Julio Diaz Ferran.

It is worth noting, too, this important film is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a favorite target of right-wing GOP extremists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tonight, a group of middle to advance age members of the organization known as Pedro Pan will celebrate its yearly reunion at the Biltmore Hotel. These are the children that left Cuba in 1961-1962 through the kindness of the Catholic Church, specifically Monsignor Walsh and many other well meaning Americans. The parents of those children sent them abroad to a new land to save them from the disaster we have come to know as "communism". Sadly, 56 years after the Castro brothers took over Cuba, they remain in power and gearing up their children to become the next rulers in place. The Cuban Revolution was nothing more than anarchism is disguise. It has destroyed every Cuban family, infected Latin America with guerrillas and warfare and introduced every criminal venture from narcotics, cargo theft, Medicaid fraud to the United States. Cubans are responsible for their political future; however, support for freedom and democracy for all Cubans by the international community is always welcomed.