Director Carlos Lechuga’s masterful unspooling of time in his second feature film “Santa y Ándres” constructs a uniquely Cuban mix of tedium and despair, resulting in an emotionally intense experience that sneaks up on the viewer in plain sight.
The film opens with the stillness of a landscape painting: the eastern Cuban countryside of 1983 – rugged, lush, and verdant. The statuesque Santa (Lola Amores) is almost non-descript as she lugs a bulky wooden chair purposefully down a dusty road. A panoramic wide shot pins her to the foreground of a vast barren landscape, giving the impression of stillness even as she walks. Santa arrives at the run-down shack where writer Ándres (Eduardo Martínez ) lives in isolation. She declares herself a representative of the Communist party, assigned to “accompany” Ándres while a political forum takes place in town. She will be his watchdog for the next three days, ensuring that the writer has no contact with the international press.
In a film essentially about a prisoner and his jailer, one can assume some sort of meaningful interaction between the two. It’s to the director (who also wrote and produced the film) and the actors’ credit that “Santa y Ándres” manages to avoid this scenarios’ more obvious tropes. The movie, for example, upends the idea of secrecy and truth. Whereas Ándres, an ostracized, gay writer, might be readily bestowed as the bearer of the film’s gravitas, simple, farm worker Santa is no less intriguing because of the labyrinthine tale of personal tragedy that snakes beneath her obdurate persona.
Actors Eduardo Martínez and Lola Amores are an exceptionally matched duo (the two won the Best Performance Award at the Miami International Film Festival), each specializing in a form of quiet intensity that compliments the other’s performance. Amores’ chiseled bronze face is defensive and distrustful. As a friendship grows with Ándres, she reveals flashes of a childlike silliness. Her vulnerability and personal pain are all the more impactful because they are revealed in quick glances.
Martínez’s soulful brown eyes always seem to be begging for mercy where none exists. Ándres’ is one of the last men standing in a generation of talented writers such as Reynaldo Arenas and Rene Ariza, who fled Cuba’s oppression. Having already been beaten, jailed, subjected to electroshock treatments, and ostracized for being gay and a writer, Ándres’ descent into further humiliation and alienation is all the more painful to witness. One devastating scene, an act of repudiation, is scaled down to its bare bones. A steady camera held mercilessly close to the aggression reveal Lechuga’s talent for restraint and release.
“Santa y Ándres” has the unfortunate distinction of having been censored on both sides of the Florida Straits. Although shown at the Miami Film Festival, the film was removed from the awards competition at the Havana Film Festival New York, likely due to pressure from the Cuban government. It was also censored in Cuba where it was not included in the Festival of New Latin American Cinema. According to the Miami Herald, Roberto Smith, the current director of the ICAIC (The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry), claims the film presents a distorted image of the Cuban Revolution.
But films like “Santa y Ándres” transcend rhetoric and offer a communal opportunity to witness past wounds and confront present-day denial.
“Santa y Ándres” opens Friday, April 28 at the Tower Theater, 1508 S.W. 8th St., Little Havana. Info and show times, towertheatermiami.com, 305-237-2463.
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