Por MIREYA CASTAÑEDA
CONVERSING with Enrique Pineda Barnet, 2006 National Film Prize winner, is always a pleasure. When the dialogue concerns two news items it is even more satisfying. In the simple and welcoming atmosphere of his home, which reflects him, we talk about the Maestro de Juventudes (Teacher of Youth) Prize which he has been awarded and the special pre-screening of his film Verde Verde.
This prize, which I like to call a recognition, touches a very important cord in me. Really, I have felt myself much more of a teacher than anything else, despite the fact that it wasn’t my conscious vocation. As a boy they wanted me to be a scientist, doctor, athlete, which I didn’t relate to at all. I woke up to the artistic life. I was an actor, began to write – short stories – then radio, television, theater and came to film almost in the form of a decanting. It had never occurred to me to teach, and that occupation has been a profound awakening of the best there is within me. For me, being a teacher is the most beautiful thing in my life. Being awarded the Maestro de Juventudes prize covers two aspects, because relating to youth has been a constant on my part, a search and hope.
But film took over your life…
Yes, it’s the inevitable pull of hurricanes. It’s true that film is related to everything I have been and have preferred, because it encompasses my instinctive inclination as a dancer, singer, writer, actor. I did a lot of work in publicity and I don’t disown that, it was my great technical school. Within advertising I even did choreography and jingles. And so, film emerged from that and fascinates me. Nevertheless, I like to infringe on the laws of cinema. In general, I’m quite the infringer, a personal inclination, I like being disobedient, going beyond rules and norms. I have always sought experimental film, in some ways along the lines of doing without; I mean I learned to do without, not because of scarcity, but because of excess; I feel enriched by this doing without. I won, I triumphed. That fits in very well with our economic situation. I like to make films without scenography, without things which are completely secondary.
You’ve already finished Verde Verde. Its genre, theme?
Although I am closely associated with dramatic genres, in this film I discovered its genre after it was made. I realized that it’s a thriller, very infrequent in Cuban cinema arts, although not infrequent in mine because Aquella larga noche is a thriller. Verde Verde is a psychological thriller because all the tension is expressed in psychological terms, and also in very strong sociological ones.
What it’s about is another matter. It’s difficult to be precise about the theme, although it seems precise; it is homophobia, but leads to others such as machismo, the sickness of hatred; generally speaking phobias are a sickness. Hatred is the worst cancer that can invade human beings. This film is about the hatred of love, a question which encloses a paradox. That’s basically the theme. Some people close to me have said that it’s my most political film, and I said, ‘Hell, I wasn’t trying to make a political film.’ What they are saying is that it touches on essences which lead to politics. The film is hard, very heavy. It is made very succinctly, I’m referring to resources. Two basic locations. The first, a hangar in a port converted into a loft, belonging to a man who works on ships as a paramedic, which is why he was given this space in the port, which he has made his home. It is constructed of things from his voyages, his souvenirs.
The other location is a bar in the port area, in a basement, a promiscuous bar with all the trappings or seeds of a corrupt world. It could be a bar in any port in the world, it could be Cuba or not, it could be now or 10 years ago or 10 years from now. That is the charged situation from which the characters emerge.
I can appreciate, like in La anunciación, that it’s based on art…
The film is related in terms of dramatization and a little bit in terms of art. Rocío García, the artist, is a painter in the bar and, in her paintings, she imagines, sees situations, paints them and then follows them through in her imagination. .What we see is the painter’s vision, which is what could happen, and what actually does happen.
In the leading role Héctor Noas, said to be my icon actor. He is, because he is a brilliant and much loved ex-student. Carlos Miguel Caballero, not as well known in Cuba, but he comes from the Advanced Institute of Arts and the Teatro El Público group. He travels around the world, but his base is here. There is a third character, not outlined as such, but a specter, a latent image, the seductive woman whom only one of the characters sees and she is played by Farah María.
Your regular team of staff?
I like working with friends. Raúl Rodríguez, director of photography, with camera work by Pablo Massip, as the entire film is shot with a hand held camera; artistic director, Nieves Laferté; music, Juan Piñera; editing; Pedro Suárez, sound track, Osmani Olivares; choreography – as it isn’t a musical and I always have a choreographic eye – Gustavo Herrera, who did La bella del Alhambra and La anunciación; and graphic design by Rocío García.
The screenplay is yours. Is it tight in general?
Yes, the screenplay and research are mine. In every case I leave a small margin for improvisation, but practically everything is preplanned, without it being an ironclad one.
How do you feel when people call your films classics of Cuban cinema?
I don’t know what to say in that context. The nature of classic films is given to them by time. It’s very strange. A veritable paradox comes into play, what was discounted 40 years ago suddenly becomes a classic. For example, Soy Cuba. I was the Cuban scriptwriter. The story line is mine, but the film was made in collaboration with Evgueni Evtushenko (Russian poet). The dramatic weight is mine, but there is something Russian in the style with which I wasn’t much in agreement, but I communicated very well with Sergei Urusevsky, the director of photography who was going along the same line as me, more than (Mikhail) Kalatozov, who was the director. That’s what was happening with Carlos Fariñas, who did the music, and myself.
In its time, Soy Cuba was reviled here by the critics, authorities, everybody put it down as a bad film. In the Soviet Union, as it was called then, it was passed off as nothing, nobody was interested in it. Our lives, our cultures were very different. Forty years went by. After the Berlin Wall fell, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese made a tour of those socialist bloc countries, so reviled as well, to see what they were like, and they went to Mosfilm, where they found a can in the archives saying Cuba, asked about it, they explained, and they asked to see it out of curiosity. They felt closer to Cuban than to Russian culture. They saw it and commented… Scorsese said that if he had seen it before his work would have been completely different, and Coppola was in the clouds. Finally, they bought the film from Mosfilm. In New York they brought together specialists, critics and screened it, which prompted exclamations that it had to be among the Top 10 in film history. Somewhat exaggerated. For me exaggerated, good and bad. People’s way of seeing films is an impassioned issue. We came out of it with very little benefit, but it has become a classic.
For me, there is an exceptional documentary by a Brazilian, Vicente Ferraz, a graduate from the San Antonio (de los Baños) Film School, Soy Cuba: el Mamuth Siberiano, where he explores the making of the film, gives it an aesthetic translation and makes it possible to see its positive and negative vales. For me, the classic is the documentary.
Then Giselle. It was a film made at the proposal of the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), by Alfredo (Guevara), in 1963. I started it with difficulty, not being a lover of classical ballet, and I said so to Alicia and Fernando (Alonso). They made me love the ballet. They gave me ballet classes and I gave them film and drama classes. I did a workshop with the entire company. It was my great fortune that Alicia became a docile village girl in my hands, she was totally disciplined, totally enchanting, and Fernando did Hilarion for me, the ultimate, he danced with his histrionic talent and knowledge of dance.
It was a paradox, making a film with Alicia and the raw materials they gave me had been stored and had expired. Tucho Rodríguez, the director of photography and an exceptional photographer of Spanish origin who had lived in Cuba for many years, did some laboratory tests and confirmed that the film was expired and told me that it was going to come out milky, misty. I said, let’s take advantage of that, the mist will create atmosphere. I had a divine reference, a film by Polish director Kavalerovich, Madre Juana de los Ángeles, and I thought, let’s go for black and white. Result, it’s become a classic.
Then there’s Cosmorama. A seven-minute art short to test the color. They premiered it in the Cinemateca in a tribute to Sandú Darie and then it was archived for 40 years or more. Until suddenly, the Madrid Queen Sofia Museum, at the instigation of curators like Luisa Marisí and others, decided that Cosmorama was a precursor of current art shorts. So that became a classic as well. It’s funny.
Next came La Bella del Alhambra, which was no more than a search to resuscitate Cuban musical theater. Returning Cuban film’s debt to musicals, which had an excellent development including before the Revolution, a precarious, primitive musical, but there it is. La bella… brings together exceptional conditions in terms of its complexity of personnel and brilliant division of labor. I am very proud of the result. Beatriz Valdés, Carlos Cruz, Isabel Moreno, Verónica Lynn. It was a notable success.
I never intended to be a classical filmmaker at all and, moreover, to me, the word classical is exclusive. Going back to Verde Verde, my aspiration is that it will be a film that we carry in our souls, it’s to think about and to feel.
One day, one of my students said to me, ‘Maestro, do you know that green green leads to maturity? Everything that is too green ends up being ripe. That means that all extremes go back to their opposite.
Verde Verde had a special pre-screening in the Chaplin movie theater and its national release is scheduled for February 2012.
Other screenplays? And Bolero?
Bolero was maliciously frustrated in its time, I don’t bear any grudge about that, but I have a good memory. I still can’t do it. I have a project inspired by a Rosa Ileana Boudet novel, Nora@dirección equivocada. A kind of tribute to the Nora of A Doll’s House, with its corresponding slam. I have a mountain of projects, although I’m turning 78. Every time I make a film, the screenplay is 10 years old, so I’ll have to speed up, shape up.
Enrique Pineda Barnet, a maestro of Cuban cinema, has returned to filmmaking and has various projects in reserve. Finding out about them is a privilege, a special moment.
Fuente: Granma Internacional