To get closer to the courses and meanings of the films created by Humberto Solás, are of indispensable valuation their first short films, dated at the beginning of the 1960s. From then on, it is evidenced the will of formal attempts characteristic of the author in that moment, when he tried to dominate filmmaking expressive techniques. In those films were insinuated in a more or less transparent way the constants that would encourage the later works of Solás, almost a unique example in Cuba of an confessed, expedite fidelity, to an aesthetics become personal ethics.
Minerva traduce el mar (1963), exalts its literary lineage, immersed in the Baroque poetics, at the same time that transmutes Jose Lezama Lima’s poem into a completely free fugue, into associations and images that metabolized the original text, in this way turning it into a metaphoric toy. To recreate the text Minerva... it was aided by the music and a detailed search of the formal beauty which that would served as an excuse to some critic's sector to brand the film director as formalist and affected. The appropriation of the music's semantic, syntactic and expressive values would be present throughout of Solás’s work, from 1963 until the1990s, which reach its peak in Leo Brouwer or José María Vitier’s scores for films such as Lucía, A day of November, Amada, El Siglo de las Luces and Miel para Oshún with soundtracks that includes some of the most brilliantly eclectic moments of the Cuban contemporary music. Minerva traduce el mar appealed to the metaphoric stream of the poetry of the Cuban writer José Lezama Lima and also to the music, the dance and the theater in a kind of interdisciplinary performance as an early (very early) antecedent of that that later would be known in our artistic environment with the imprecise classification of video art. In spite of its aggressive formalism, and of a certain air of avant-garde dilettantism that with its insolent obviousness would not be part again of the expressive codes of Solas’s work, Minerva traduce el mar is remarkable as one of the first promising works of a director gifted to design and recreate atmospheres, rather than to narrate stories, a filmmaker able to update our cinema using the unfading elements of our culture and the universal one, subjected to a perennial, Cartesian dialogue. Solás`s first short films (Variaciones, Minerva... and El retrato) can be appreciated as an attempts to forge communicating vessels between the outpost of the art world and a national cinema that wanted to be modern, plural, and with a universal spirit, without being limited to the field of the explicit epic and neither to the obstinate zeal to trace the positive hero's incorruptible profiles.
For a cinema that like the Cuban was been
redesigned from its foundations (in the 1960s) Humberto Solás became a solid
promise. El acoso (1965) and Manuela (1966) meant the definitive
incursion of the author in the narrative fiction film. Both deeply participate
of the specificity of the Cuban cinema that transfers elements of the documentary
to the fiction and vice versa. Solas’s films approach the past and the recent
history from a more realistic, direct and sharply focused style in the way of
the classic neorrealist filmmakers.
Although almost the whole critic, national and international, try to circumscribe the author to the great historical epics based on literary works that later consecrated his filmography, Humberto conceived good part of his films paying special attention to historical present or the immediate past, Since El acoso, (which established in Cuba a revealing approach to the contesting otherness) to Miel para Oshún (2000), (where this otherness is shown with such a range of nuances that perhaps it is confused with the harmonic all) and passing through Manuela, Lucía's third story, Un día de noviembre and Cantata de Chile.
For the insightful penetration in the feminine subjectivity could be stated that both Manuela and El Acoso established in the Cuban cinema the thematic of the woman like unchaining core and absolute main character. In his forthcoming filmography, mainly in Lucía, Cecilia and Amada, the feminine character becomes a polysemous symbol and an incarnation of spirituality, resistance and daintiness, beyond any transient or vainly polemic intention. At times when the cinema of the Revolution was still characterized by its openly epic and affirmative character, Manuela meant the cinematic the emergence of a new sensibility that submerged the collective big causes in personal motives. This medium length film reconciled the force and sincerity of the political commitment with the imperative of testifying the emotional impact and the spiritual complexity, emotions and spirits with their natural impulses that reflect the social impact that the Island lived. Part of the thematic originality of Manuela resides in the absolutely personal motivations of the main character's (vengeance, desire to live a different, superior experience) absolutely personal motives, starting from which the girl reaches a higher dimension of the concepts of universal love and human solidarity, understood by the film as ideals able to transcend any specific context. A similar emanation of transcendence reveals Lucía (1968) considered until now as the absolute consecration of a film director and of an entire national cinema. In a time when the films with feminine thematic, had generally only been sketched, Lucía's three segments describe a dramatic line ambivalent, though not paradoxical. In one of the sides is the conscious care to catch the diverse historical periods, in the other, the ups and downs and failures with which history has affected the feminine soul. Both ideological and thematic lines fuse in such an eloquent triptych, as convincing on the intimate sphere as those Gothic paintings that illustrated the Virgin's life, and at the same time as panoramic and ecumenical as those other triptychs, of the same pictorial period, in which battles or allegories of bad habits and virtues were described. The three Lucias bond the personal epic poetry with the ebb and flow of the liberating national epic, an emancipation that summons and perturbs the Cuban woman as an essential participating entity. Lucía constitutes the first sagacious look of our cinema at the historical elements as a resonance chamber for the intimacy, without that the description of the feminine soul prevent from reflecting the environment, and neither from assuming the symbiosis of races and purified people to the shade of the ceiba and palm trees.
It has been insisted in the neo-romantic tension and agitation of the first story, in the pessimistic languor of the second, in the pop effervescence of the third one, but very little has already be stated about the fact that Lucía describes polychromy, the mingling and complexity of the processes that favored the establishment of a national conscience and identity. In this film are established the basic coordinates of Solas’s cinema; it is the embryo and the converging axis, grown and ramified later in numerous stylistic foreshortenings that are always intrinsically related with the fertile multiplicity of the womb-film. Lucía's first story articulates and it converges with Cecilia and El Siglo de las Luces, at least as for the sublimation of the century in which takes place the painful childbirth of the Cuban nation. The fate, the character and the substance of characters such as Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier´s Sofía, 1895’s Lucía and the novelist Cirilo Villaverde’s Cecilia (that in polemic version of Solás is transmuted into Oshún and who resembles the Caridad del Cobre (the so called Charity of the Copper Cuban virgin) can be read as symbolic allusions to the Island, in that traumatic and founding century that was the 19th century in Latin American. It can also be noticed formal and expressive analogies, significance similarities and recurrent postulates on the relationship history / individual between Lucía's second story and the docudrama Wifredo Lam, Amada o Un hombre de éxito, all referred to the so called neo-republican period of Cuban history. We have already mentioned the multiple relations among the third story of Lucía and Manuela, Un día de noviembre y Miel para Oshún, already directly related with the conscience reassignment that meant the fight and revolutionary triumph. In this way, Solás has categorized his characters and stories according to different periods. Without renouncing to revise, evaluate and summarize virtues and outrages of the past, he tries to apprehend the immanence, the common substance that has distinguished the residents of the Cuban archipelago of all times, particularly in the case of women. His reminiscent revision sometimes evidences a metaphysical and skeptical perspective: love, no matter how true or selfless is, regularly culminates in darkness and frustration, the truth and the values almost always succumb to widespread incomprehension, the altruistic exception is often the subject of intolerance. The insistence in the constants that define the romantic quality is another of the recurring facts in his films. It had to be this way, because it is already known that the nation conscience and the feeling of independence consolidated in the same period in which took place the romantic flowering in Western art and literature.
A romantic and tragic perceptible aura characterizes a lot of Solas’s characters rapturous, passionate, and quixotic or caught by ethical conventions. Obviously romantic seem to be the rebellions of the two first Lucías and also the refusal of the of the third Lucia to become a mere object of use and service, as established the tradition. The tragic destination, the emphasis and the supreme desire also resound in Amada and Cecilia, as well as in all the supporting roles that Raquel Revuelta plays in the cinema of Solás. The death, the suffering or the madness also crown the character of Lucía first story, Sofía, Aamada, Cecilia and of the phantasmagoric Carmen, the suffering mother ideal image of the missed mother in Miel para Oshún. weakness, impotence, frustration, ineptitude for the combat, awareness of their defeat are part of the romantic core present in the typological patter of most of the male characters of his cinema, from the two Esteban (that of El siglo de las Luces and Un día de noviembre) until Cecilia's Leonardo, the family group tramped by Un hombre de éxito, and the uprooted Roberto of Miel para Oshún all exhausted of looking for ideals as love, justice and freedom, and fed up with verifying in the practice the peremptory impossibility of materializing them.
In accordance with the previously stated, it seems reasonable to assert that his cinema originates from a romantic genesis that lay the foundation of a personal and expressive style, a coherence of temperament and elective affinity that avoid the typifying and the topics of both out-and-out romanticism and perceptive and rigid socialist realism. In this way, his films outline the contours of a hard to define reality, an out of proportion; and vast universe, a country traversed by an indomitable and Baroque lushness.
The recreation of the slavery period and of the African component in our culture and idiosyncrasy can also be distinguished in significant passages of Lucía, Cecilia, El siglo de las Luces and , Miel para Oshún, apart from the fact that they are extensively recreated in documentaries as Simparelé, Wifredo Lam and Obataleo. The single enumeration questioned the preconception of classifying the Cuban film director as exclusive substitute of European prolegomenon. If something classifies his filmography has been its syncretism, cosmopolite and including vision that counts, of course, with the Western and African heritages, but never shelters in first world prejudices neither factious or sympathizer of racism. Their films define and recapitulate the resulting mixture of races and cultures, more than to exalt in their virgin state the integrating factors, or even to determine the specific weight of each integrating element of the resulting mixture of people and cultures.
From this arise the ideological and aesthetic coincidence of Solás with emblematic artists and thinkers from this country, as they get closer to this endless miscellany of which we are a product in the process of being improved. Lezama and Lam, Varela, Villaverde and Martí, Fernando Ortiz and Miguel de Carrión, Moreno Fraginals, Gutiérrez Alea and Carpentier, Gutiérrez Alea and Carpentier, operate like a kind of supporting ductile substratum on which operates the specificity of the language that Humberto Solás masters. In this way, his cinema explains and reinterprets the process of exchange of values and essences that has originated all that is Cuban, at the same time it describes the thickness of this ethnic and cultural amalgam, and focuses on illustrating the recoding process (called sincretismo) in religion, customs, costumes and the arts.
The Cuban Alejo Carpentier stated that "all symbiosis, all miscegenation engenders a baroque style." The exacerbated colorful atmosphere and the antinomy of yoruba-Catholic ceremonial in Cecilia, the diffuse religiosity and the pantheism of Miel para Oshún, the African dances influenced by Maurice Bejart in Simparelé, the Asian elements mixed with the thirworld jungle and with the Picassian Europe in Wilfredo Lam, the rationalistic santería religion of El Siglo de las luces, evidence a globalizing and ecumenical intention, encyclopedic and detailed at the same time, in so far as they ver created as films pervaded by the diverse archetypes that converged in Cuba and from here irradiated to the world. The tension and distortion attributed to the neo-baroque, understood as a style based on polyphonic and vast additions, are cardinal elements in these films. Dramatic tension expressed in dead end situations and pathetic characters, condemned beforehand to the disintegration; a distortion that comes from emphasizing the passion collision of melodramatic, operatic origin. The violent contrasts of illumination, the vitality of the camera movements, the motley and meticulous features of the set design, the reverberation of the montage, as well as the deliberate coloration, the obsessive emphasis place in the performance of the actors and the pictorical quality of the frame and camera angels allow to considered Humberto Solas`s films within the neo-barroque cinema, to which also belong, with different degrees of relation, contemporary filmmakers as the Polish Andrzej Wajda, the Italian Bernardo Bertolucci, the German Werner Herzog, the Russian Nikita Mijalkov and the North American Martin Scorsese, in other words, the best film directors of the cinema made after the three successive decades that fallowed the year 1965.
After a ten years break without directing, Humberto Solás made the feature film Miel para Oshún. This work could be related, for its direct, simple and evidently communicating aim, to his first period as film director, in which he surprised with Manuela's naturalistic and uncompromising vigor, or Lucía's third story with its jubilation and farse atnosphere, which are recovered, somehow, in this road movie that is also a beloved homage to those beings called average Cubans, women and men and of the people, pedestrians.
The movie counts the return of a Cuban-Americano
(Jorge Perugorría) in search of his mother and origins. The anecdotic
simplicity appears bolstered and supported by the a totalizing allegorical
purpose. Many sequences seems to come from the own character's pure nostalgia, from
affections, sounds and familiar, almost intimate colors. The film is sustained
on two bases: the noble ode to the most valuable elements of the Cuban
condition, and an allusive, at moment even lyrical aim. Both premises allow the
film to surpass the category of only a road movie at times nice and always funny.
Apart from the some like burlesque odyssey of the characters, the film assumes,
with different degrees of penetration, the tragedy of familiar division, the unavoidable
pilgrimage in search of authenticity, and draws the portrait of emotionally committed,
complex and sometimes painful realities, besides that an attempt is made to
understand the past and present of this country advancing so noble proposals as
understanding and solidarity by all means. Miel
para Oshún is much more heartily intimate that any other of the common
Cuban film aimed to get an easy smile from the audience. Its reunions and
starting points describe a more spiritual than physical odyssey. And in spite
of the sensitive theme, the director managed to distance himself from the commonplaces
that sometimes accompany our so called "Necessary” Films. This can be
understood as an sketch, as a radically ethical film proposal, devoted to
depicting the search and discovery of common values and unfading loves, using
like pretext the uneven journey of the characters into the bowels and womb of
the Island. The uprooting drama of the main character stops from being
personal, from the moment on that he disembark in Havana at the beginning of
the film until the operatic and excessive finale (as is typical of the Solás)
in one of the best epilogues in of the Cuban cinema, brilliant definition in
celluloid of the eternal cry-laughter that characterizes us like a nation.
On the other hand, it is impossible not to admit that this is the most seemingly simple and deliberately communicative work of Humberto Solás. Their perspective has varied lightly in regard to the point of view, this time perhaps closer to every day life facts and to the present, more attentive to the universe of the popular elements. The end of Miel para Oshún leaves in the eyes, and also deep under the skin, and I don't know what of dancing light and of total reconciliation of all. I am not concern of how extraordinary it would be considered by purists, but I am sure that to promote such feelings are achievements alien to simple, average and opportunistic movies.
The urgency of transformation through the
knowledge (the trip) and the search of essential truths are pillars, recurring
motif of the most recent work signed by Humberto Solás, author that returns
avoiding, for the time being, their explicit preference to focus on the Cuban literature
and past (El siglo de las Luces, Un
hombre de éxito, Amada, Cecilia, Lucía). But perhaps it has been establihed to soon demarcation lines
between Humberto`s previous works and his new film. The characters of
Perogurría and Isabel Santos pass through something similar to a crisis of
vital inspiration, of self assertion that compel them to reconsider his yearnings
and hopes by means of the trip, the search and the reunion. Similar to the
protogonist of Un dia de noviembre,
Roberto is about coming closer to a way of living genuinely felt to the extreme,
even when he attempts to restrain any catharsis by means of the rationalism.
Throughout the whole film his Cartesianism risk paralysis and will be finally
subjugated by a reality that surpasses his mechanisms of immunity. Can be
treated the uprooting and failure to adapt by recurring to the untied instinct,
to the ancestral element, to that unexplored bottom that lies in some crevise
of our affective memory? If the Estebans of Un dia de noviembre and El siglo de las Luces wandered in search
of spiritual motivations, always out of reach, Roberto in Miel para Oshún is less skeptical and languid, without resigning
himself at all, he recognizes the lies upon which his existence was founded, so
he rebels againsst it, rushing perhaps in search of some ideal, running after the
elusive, diffuse and remote truth, but the only one that can offer him a
permanent expression beyond its own, deceiving memories. Roberto is one of the
most significant, well balanced and moving male character in Solas`s filmography,
which, by the way, is not absent of detailed portraits of the virile
psychology, but they are generally designed as active, proud, unyielding and
devastating film (in order to establish a
contrast with the feminine main characters): among others the Enlightenment man
turn into a tyrant of El siglo...,
the cousin determined to seduce of Amada,
the siblings brought faced to face in Un
hombre de éxito, the two characters played by Llauradó in Manuela and Lucia, Roberto is less distant from his female cousin and his
mother; he is more sensitive and more balanced than the other male protagonists
painted by Solás. Miel para Oshún exibits
a new correlation of forces between genders. The women of the film will be able
to feel hurt and frustrated, but they remain unshakable as root, shaft and
fruit of all realization. The cousin, the mother and the half-dozen women (in secondary
roles of unsuspected brightness) advanced stories in which those that were
victims and at the same time heroines, parallel destinies to those of Lucía,
Sofía at the end of El siglo...,
Cecilia, Amada and Lucía. Almost none of them give way to inaction and despair,
less in the case of that ideal and nourishing mother Carmen / Lucía, who was
not defeat by a thousand distresses. Much stronger that the psychosexual focus,
is the panoramic will of the film in regard to the emigration and its
consequences. If some note in this regard appeared in Un día de noviembre, here spread out the most diverse points of
view, all gravitating toward the necessity of reflection and reconciliation. In
the film coexist and try to understand each other, the one that left and
returned (diametrically opposed to the Manichean vision of the feature film Lejania), those who withdrew insolated in
themselves, and those that stayed fighting for their right to a realization space, people in search of a
course perhaps erratic, but for them opportune. The film appeals to the
exhibition of such attitudes only with the aim of transcending any schematic
approach, so recurring in the Cuban cinema that has tried to approach the
topic. In order to manage the film’s atmosphere of essential transcendence,
Humberto exalts the fidelity from all his characters to certain enlightening
deeply humanist Cuban and universal essences, with which the best acts,
premonitions and remembrances agree.
All serious examination, all affirmation of the Cuban cinema must necessarily pass through the reconsideration of Humberto Solás’s cinema and of the place of its films in our film history. Passionate by the aesthetic adventure of assuming universal (romantic, neo-baroques, melodramatic) codes as alternative to the unthinking, the author inherits without shame the whole genealogy of aesthetic pluralities, sifting them with the singularity of the Cuban elements. His filmography, mostly significant and inciting, appears marked by the risk and the dissatisfaction with the dogmas and obvious ideas. Easily recognizable for their insolence and elegance, half-dozen of its works marked landmarks in the cultural history of this country. Lucía is not maybe the completed product of the creative typical atmosphere of the years 1960s? The unfortunate series of delays that surrounded the release of A day of November was not also the characteristic of that gray decade, of cultural and reflexive contraction? Was not Cecilia the film that opened a national polemic on the desirable courses for the Cuban cinema in the years 1980s?
Much made Humberto Solás for the recycling of our cinema starting from thinking it as an art, as aesthetic product and spiritual food. He did not want to converge with the casual assumptions and neither sought to win privileges or patronages, because the artist that recreates the national history in each new work will write, necessarily, a agitating testament for her contemporary countryman. The Dionysian agitation, the paroxysm fascination of his talk about a nation that has been able to survive the mortal infection with domestication, a nation that has known how to avoid the monotonous activity of the intolerance. That Lucía that racked implored a gardenia, Esteban of eyes open to the skeptical doubt, Sofía who sacrifice herself on behalf of a diffuse but perceptible ideal, Roberto in search of the creek where honeys and ocean meet converge, they embody the fruitful perseverance of a film director determined to write his personal prophecy about the imminent victory of the intelligence, the beauty and the sensibility.