The Cuban nation began and developed hand-in-hand with migration, a complex process with a great impact in demographic, cultural, economic and socio-political terms. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the issue of migration appears in a never-ending list of Cuban movies.
Appearances of the issue were sporadic in Cuban film during the first years of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry’s (ICAIC) existence. This ended in those first scenes from Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memories of underdevelopment) (1968), when the protagonist bids farewell to his wife and his family, at the airport.
Later, emigration became an appealing issue for Cuban film, especially in the 21st century. It allows filmmakers and scriptwriters to expose the strong correlation between society and the individual, an interrelationship that shapes a character’s desire or decision to go and live in another country. Contemplating the trade-off in terms of uncertainty, growing apart and loss.
Within the wide range of Cuban movies that deal with migration, I will select ten Cuban movies, whose characters suffer the “I-want-to-leave-Cuba” syndrome. These are characters who are completely possessed by an anxiety to break away from a very concrete everyday reality. One that is unsatisfactory in that it does not meet their material, psychological or spiritual needs.
When migration regulations were made more flexible, many Cubans living abroad began traveling back to the island. Likewise, many made extended visits in other countries or took up opportunities to live abroad thanks to work contracts, or marriage with foreigners. The cinematographic stereotype of the emigre as a tragic, torn apart character who leaves their country and culture for good was defused.
However, the tragic spirit that emigres used to have, generally-speaking that is, has now been translated to a character who is suffering an existential crisis with everyday life and the pressing need to find alternatives or different paths. Let’s take a look at ten Cuban movies produced in the past two decades, that center around these characters that long for something different, dissatisfied, tragic and almost always out of touch with their surroundings in their urgent obsession to leave.
Nada (2000) “Nothing More”, Juan Carlos Cremata
Perhaps the first character in Cuban film to dare to shout out that they want to leave Cuba is Carla, played by Thais Valdes in the movie Nada. Her name was entered into the lottery to get a visa and permanent residency in the US, and she survives by working at a Post Office where, bored, she puts stamps on letters. Carla is fed up of a life without anything more to live for, and seems to be tired of helping others. Plus, she longs to have her own life, to see her parents again and, maybe, escape the daily grind and complaining, being under surveillance at work, shortages, blackouts…
Periodista y crítico cultural, especializado en el tema audiovisual. Publica críticas y otros trabajos en publicaciones cubanas y extranjeras. También ejerce como profesor de Historia del cine, y de Géneros cinematográficos en la Facultad de Arte de los Medios de Comunicación Audiovisuales, del ISA, y en la Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV, de San Antonio de los Baños. Recientemente recibió el Premio de Periodismo Cultural y obtuvo el grado de Doctor en Ciencias del Arte.