Here's my review on it.
Having only seen a handful of Cuban films in my day, I was starting to get familiar with the heavy-handed approach that wielded together both the narrative and its requisite reflection on Cuban politics. However, with Viva Cuba I was surprised to find a relatively low-key and touching portrayal of a group that has been largely ignored by its native filmmakers. Its about the current Cuban exodus that is observed through the eyes of 2 children.
While acclaimed in the festival circuit, it most notably won the Grand Prix at Cannes for the best childrens fare and was Cubas official submission to the Academy Awards last year. Helmed by Juan Carlos Cremata, a successful Cuban director with a controversial past, Viva Cuba is less an indictment of flawed USA-Cuban relations than it is about the lives of its characters, the duo of Malu (Mal Tarrau Broche) and Jorgito (Jorge Milo). They are 11-year-old classmates and best friends at the brink of their burgeoning adolescence who are being kept apart by their families. Jorgito comes from a poor, working class background with strong roots in the Cuban communist revolution while Malus family is staunchly Catholic, well-off and relentlessly bourgeois.
As circumstances unfold for Malu starting with her grandmother passing away, her mother makes a decision to immigrate to the US to marry her boyfriend. Unwilling to give up her life in Cuba and her friendship with Jorgito, Malu resolutely makes up her mind to travel to the other end of Cuba to convince her estranged father to refuse signing the obligatory papers for her impending migration.
Fundamentally, its a sincere ode to a simple time in everyones lives, when nothing was impossible with the innocence and sincerity of youth. The director stoops down to the level of the young protagonists, seeing everything as they do with the crystal-clear ingenuousness in which the film is handled makes this a very accessible and has a universal film.
Although it does not hit you over the head with its political messages, the atmosphere is heavy with topical issues such as immigration, segregation and what it means to have personal liberties. The localised issues are used as a backdrop for the 2 friends to balance their own developing perceptions of life against the reality they live in. The polarising dimensions of Cuba are evident in the families the children belong to with each having a strong, disparate political leaning and opinions of how the country should be run.
If there was an aspect of the film that was more potent and lively than its wholly convincing and precocious leads, it would be its cinematography. Showing the countrys pastoral imagery and landscapes that have been largely unseen in motion pictures could have put most travelogues to shame.
When the comedy of situations starts to come to the fore (during their journey), it shows an ardent sense of humour in Crematas young characters. As Malus own insecurities takes a more prominent role, Jorgitos role takes a turn from being her partner-in-crime to a confidant that would form the expected trajectory of his characters arc. As a childrens film, it is frank and honest with its ideas of the sociopolitical implications that Cubans face daily. Unfortunately, its short runtime seems just too fleeting especially when it dwells on its overly saccharine scenes that might hold little merit with adult audiences.
The cultural blockade in the country with its perennial opponent, the US, has an unseen but nonetheless significant impact in the lives of the Cuban children. The strive for the preservation of friendship and a unique way of life is the driving point of the film, showing the strong sense of loyalty and importance of companionship in childrens lives as well as in a larger Cuban collective. Often overshadowed by their counterparts in Spain, Mexico and Argentina, Cuban cinema is finally getting distributed in key markets and with that, the respect and attention that they rightly deserve.
I really hope this better distribution. I've seen a handful of films from Cuba and thats still more than most people have and I would like to say that the country has more to offer than just cigars or a political fodder for comedians and pundits. Beautiful nation with beautiful people.
I am most intrigued by the director's (Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti) experiences with the US government when he was younger, especially with his father. He has the eye and acumen to actually do something insightful and sharp enough with politic-centric filmmaking that could get the Cuban situation noticed by more people outside of South/North America.