The fourth Minnesota Cuban Film Festival, running Thursday nights through March 28 at St. Anthony Main, presents a half-dozen feature films about forbidden love, social struggle, revolution, involuntary exile and the island’s vibrant musical heritage. There’s not much here that is openly critical of the Castro regime. The series, co-curated by the government-run Cuban Film Institute and the Minnesota Cuba Committee, which sponsors tourism programs to the island, is more concerned with Cuban culture than ideology. Nevertheless, the films address Cuba’s ethnic divisions (albeit in soft-focus telenovela form) and deliver a frank documentary portrait of a proud but lamentably poor nation. They offer a glimpse into a society we rarely see close up, and the travelogue appeal of sunny Caribbean skies as we Norteamericanos shovel our way through winter’s dregs. Highlights include:
“El Brigadista” (“The Teacher”), writer/director Octavio Cortazar’s 1977 drama, winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Set in the early days of the revolution, it tells the story of Havana high school students who join the government’s Literacy Brigades to teach peasants in a small town near the Bay of Pigs. The newcomers meet suspicion in the pueblo, death threats from counter-revolutionary holdouts, and participate in a beachfront battle that creates traitors, heroes and martyrs. (Feb. 28)
“Irremediablemente Juntos” (“Hopelessly Together”), a one-of-a-kind hybrid of drama and musical. Jorge Luis Sanchez’s film is a Romeo and Juliet story of black and white university classmates (Orian Suarez and Ariadna Nuñez) whose families oppose their romance because of racial and social prejudice. There are subplots about the rum trade and American business imperialism, but the film’s wildest feature is its willingness to mix didactic lectures on the 1912 revolution with dancing-in-the-classroom fantasies. By the time a baby in a carriage bounces down the steps of a Havana municipal building in imitation of “Battleship Potemkin,” you will either surrender to the film’s lunatic vision or leave the theater for some popcorn. (March 7)
“One Among Thousands,” a sentimental documentary about Santa Fe musician Victor Alvarez’s return to his homeland after 46 years in the United States. Alvarez, who plays the mandolin like an angel, revisits his old home, friends and neighbors, finding little changed since the days his parents sent him abroad to escape socialism. His reunions inevitably turn musical, and the film takes on the air of a street-corner “Buena Vista Social Club.” Alvarez will be present for the screening. (March 14)
“Los 100 Sones Cubanos” (“100 Cuban Songs,”) in which Edesio Alejandro, a prolific composer of Cuban film scores, explores the nation’s authentic 1950s music. Alejandro, a bulky man with an unphotogenic red-dyed goatee, is not the most natural camera subject. When he and his fellow musicians dig into a groove, however, it’s magical. The film is not especially successful as a documentary, but it’s a fine filmed album. (March 28)
A complete list of films and events is at www.minnesotacubacommittee.org. All films in subtitled Spanish. Each program begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $6-$8.50 at the box office.