Revolution through the Lenses – Lucía (1968) – Gokul Prasad

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One would stumble upon reading Humberto Solás’ interviews. Although this emblematic figure of Cuban cinema is influenced by the aesthetics of Italian Neo-realism, he affirms that “European society seems to be drained, and culturally crippled.” He also dares to opinionate that the films of Vittorio De Sica are nothing but “passive testimonials about the good and the bad.” According to Solás, a film is not just a showcase of existing society, but a historical dissection of classes reinterpreted to establish a nexus of continuity between the various shifting political scenarios. He was born in Havana and completed his primary studies at the La Salle Academy. Graduated with a degree in History from the University of Havana, he participated in clandestine struggles as a member of the July 26 Movement, against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. The family had a history for such affiliations. His father was also a political activist who revolted against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. Well, it could be established that the embarkment of his political orientation in the films was driven by ideological commitment and personal experiences of witnessing Cuban realities.

In 1960, he began to work as a producer and assistant director at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). He made few documentaries like Casablanca and medium-length films like Manuela (1966) before banging up with a benchmark film Lucía (1968), considered by world critics as one of the ten most important films in the History of Latin-American Cinema. Solás has made a significant contribution to the national culture; his cinematic work is remarkably precise, ruthlessly ironic and could be distinguished by a very beautiful dramatic composition. He has always demonstrated a demand for his art that commands respect. Challenging the immobilized thoughts and questioning the morality that survives among the masses are part of his committed vision. Until his death, he also presided over the International Festival of Poor Cinema, a project that aims to motivate and promote a creative and low-budget cinema, away from the dominant commercial paths in international film circuit. The aesthetics of Solás is supported by the tight assembly of insidious struggles where the human confrontation is constant. And also, rather than just domesticating the troubles, the nature of the social sphere is entailed with dynamic ingenious reflections. He doesn’t just explore the surface but delves deep into the secret chambers of darkness. In order to propel the varied emotions in a subtle way, his films originate from the classical Neo-realism and at the same time, tries hard to fit into the avant-garde lineage.

Lucía is a film that manipulates the thunderous power of its images to express the message with greater relevance. It establishes a dialogue between the three stories threaded through exploitation, oppression and revolutionary response. That does not mean that one should have prior knowledge about the Latin – American history before watching it. To have such expectations from the spectators will question the very purpose of making a film. Rather, the director’s enchanted vision encompasses everything within the frames taking us to the roots of the country. The film-maker was so precarious that he preferred to entrust the intelligence of the audience. One must not fail him! Humberto Solás believed that in order to understand and embrace Cuban society, he must focus on the internal individual feelings as well. Because, when the nation is either awakening or weakening, it is its people. Each of the characters must represent the curious diversity prevailing amidst different classes and the social groups that alleviate the progress on account of various contradictions. While talking about the political and social resonance of the film that strikes till today, the pragmatic atmosphere foregrounds the characters’ timeless struggle. It serves as a bridge to the past, confronts the present and hopes for a better future. The impressive sense of historical detail and social insight ponders over every element of the film. The experience of the viewer is vivid and solemnly.

The director has masterfully interlocked the three sequences, skittering in time, linked together by the equivocal postures of history : each centers around a woman called Lucía. (Of course, allegorical representation of Cuba) This atypical narrative process has an abiding effect and constitutes a vectorial force throughout the tragic itinerary. The change in the history of Cuba is made clear through the changes experienced by Lucía’s character. As summarized by film critic Julianne Burton, the plot is “in the first stage, the year is 1895, during the Nationalist war of Cuba against Spain; the protagonist deviates from all the social taboos, but she is also betrayed by the very person for whom she suffered. She goes crazy, to put it mildly, after witnessing the hard hitting cruelties. The second episode takes place in 1933 at the moment of the revolution in which the dictator Machado was overthrown where the protagonist overcomes the social damage by breaking with the family world, to join a revolutionary, but between widowhood and pregnancy, Lucía prefers the loneliness. Finally the Revolution, 1960’s and Lucía is a rural peasant girl who lives in a context of social changes, is enslaved to her husband, but the pressures of outside world make her reveal the true-self and it turns out to be a revelation.” Solás says the following about the character of the women in the film, “Lucía is not a film about women; It is a film about society. But within that society, I chose the most vulnerable character, the one that is most affected at any time by the contradictions and the change.” This movie is remarkable in its ability of integrating diverse cinematic styles with almost seamless fluency.

Each episode is also a love story too – the first is a tragedy, the second is a striking melodrama and the third is a social comedy. As mentioned above, by using a set of contrasting styles, Solás has inscribed an intimate coherence intertwined with profound moments of historical change. In the first episode, Solás emerges to be a ‘Viscontian’, the Italian director whom he admires. He resorts to the act of female rape as a shocking metaphor of the island and its history, the exploitation at the hands of external forces (Spain). From this point, we are exposed to harrowing catastrophic effects of the war and the colonization of Cuba. The camera technique that Solás adopts in this scene contributes to increase hysteria that borders on madness, and is accompanied by invigorating music. The camera puts in close, fast and frantic movements capturing the expression of the faces of the protagonist and other nuns raped. The cinematography possesses such a formal degree of perfection that still surprises. The dramatic use of light in the range of a character is expressive and the complexity in elaboration of the angles is marvelous. The mise-en-scène plagued by dying bodies elevates the degree of pain and madness, leaving a great impact on the viewer. It is evident that Solás is deeply inspired by Luchino Visconti and in his search for a way to explore the human psyche through melodrama, he also induces an operatic tone without abandoning the artistic phenomenon.

The collective madness portrayed in the war sequence is a never-seen-before kind. There is neither a commander nor any heroic moment as in Hollywood films. More importantly, it does not glorify the war. The primitive savageness reveal the ubiquity of asymmetric fighting leading to the totally uncontrollable chaotic consequences. The naked soldiers on their horseback skirmish maniacally and their violent nature is woven with nightmarishly echoing cry. The distressed expressions transmit a heavy burden too. The effect is almost surreal. The shaky handheld camera repeatedly interrupts the violence shifting its focus across multiple aggressive faces, documenting their reactions of sadistic joy while killing. (Watch the video clip, pardon me for the poor quality. This video is ripped from my personal collection, and most probably that might be the only available source in torrents) Deranged men turn different. The conventional rules of war shatter in no time. The brutal and callous force overrides all kinds of moral instincts. While the horrors of war are depicted with increasing brutality, we see the hell! The blood and the gore leaves us stunned. The epidemic version of reality and the overwhelming sound grandiloquence causes a glacial permanence. Simultaneously, the war sequence inter-cuts to follow the frustrated Lucía who wanders aimlessly, unable to cope up with the betrayal.

The director’s willingness to sustain every bit of intense emotion is arduous and laudable. When the dictatorship of Machado is overthrown in the second episode, Lucía is in a state of complete desolation as her lover Aldo had died. The camera stops over the deeply depressed image of Lucía, a continued close-up to create a touching impact amongst us. But there is also a glimmer of hope projecting a possibility of change, the future. In the third episode, a more optimistic tone is discovered, almost like an ode to the true triumph of the Cuban revolution,1959 (Placarded in the film as 196_ ) One of the fundamental purposes of the film is to figure out the contrariness and motifs of the revolution. Though it doesn’t sabotage the functionalities behind the entire revolution, the film finds a balance in its implications and remains as a distant observant of hegemony as well. Even its minimal run-time for each episode allows for a detailed depiction of all the tribulations that these commoners faced in their home country. The harsh realities experienced along the way to achieve a new dream is soul stirring and the embodying kind of hope that prevails is astounding. It is also a film about the human capacity to observe and reflect; and to grow together as a result of unforgettable events. The film is ultimately satisfying.

Lucía pushed the scope of Cuban cinema. It was shown in the Classics section at the Cannes Film Festival on its 70th anniversary and felicitated as one of the great cinematographic achievements of Latin – American cinema, having been one of the most awarded Cuban films ever. If one claims it to be the most ambitious work of that time, someone will definitely jump in defending “Memories of Underdevelopment.” (Both films were released in 1968) To me, the latter was just a mockery of the after effects of the revolution. It cared much about how “intellectuals” fit into the revolution rather than addressing the conflicts at stake with virtuosity. That movie incoherently wavered over dumb incidents where almost nothing happens and the saddest part is, it is hailed to be an endeavor in discovering new cinematic approach that combines fiction and documentary. It was hilarious to learn that many film scholars interpreted this dumbness as a drive through emptiness of our lives. Phew!