“When you’re stampeding toward the future, if you stop to scratch your head, you’ll get overwhelmed.” The director tells Ernesto Daranas that while he was preparing his documentary, a colleague summarized the sad fate of Nicolás Guillén Landrián. The film, in fact, is about this filmmaker, one of the most brilliant, profound and enigmatic that Cuban cinematography produced after the revolution. He was (and still is) a great “next to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea or Humberto Solás”, and yet his brilliance barely lasted a moment, which is the glory of the discovery of a new way of portraying the contradiction of the new versus the old to total extinction. First, the persecution; then arrest and finally exile. His sin was doubting, and his punishment was being literally overwhelmed. The film follows the explicit name of Landrian and its premiere at the recent Venice Festival in the section dedicated to recovering classics places before the viewer not only the pain of an injustice, but also the brilliance of a gaze that does not cease and, in the process, projects onto the present the impertinence of what same. The situation from then continues, with its forced mutations, to be that of today. «Censorship in Cuba returns again and again. It’s still there,” says Daranas as an axiom.
First the filmmaker. Landrián was the nephew of the “Cuban color” poet. Also he black. From very early on, his way of looking, not just filming, made him find his place outside of dictates and fashions. «He was both at a distance from Italian neorealism and from socialist realism. He was alongside creators like Chris Marker», reflects Daranas academically and concisely. And he continues: “In some way, he anticipated contemporary non-fiction for his capacity for observation, for his ease of giving life and an internal feeling to the surface of everything he portrayed.” Indeed, films like The Story of the Fishermen Ociel de Toa (1965) o In an old neighborhood (1963) o Those of the dance (1965) o Arabica Coffee (1968) manage to capture not exactly a world that resists anything, and even less a revolution, but a world that remains rigorously Cuban, virgin and whole despite everything; a perfect world that does not listen to slogans or proclamations; a living world that lives converted into a living film. «He was different, He let himself be seen with foreigners, he discussed everything… Let’s say that he fit badly into the new and disciplined Cuba that was being sought,” he adds.
And now, the person. For all of the above, Landrián was accused of “licentious attitude not in accordance with the revolution”, in addition to “ideological deviation.” He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, they applied electroshocks, he was imprisoned and, finally, he was forced into exile in Miami. And from the hand of punishment to man came the forgetfulness of the work. Daranas says that his intention was never to make a documentary about him until one day he discovered the abandoned state of the celluloid. «I remember that as a child, he saw almost daily Ociel… because that was the film to cover any interruption in the neighborhood cinema,” he recalls to explain that his involvement with the author is much more than just professional.
But with everything, it is not just about repairing an injustice or recovering heritage. Nor is the idea only to offer new generations the value of their own past. «Actually», reflects Daranas, «what is interesting about the Landrián case is what it tells us about what is happening right now in Cuba. My country is experiencing one of the saddest moments in its history. Every time the distance between the Government and the people is greater. It is a country that does not offer any future to its young people. And for all this, remembering a case like Landrián’s and re-watching his films is also a political act, not just historiographical.
Daranas’ credit includes films such as The broken gods (2008) o Conduct (2014), films that are restless in their own way and critical of everything that surrounds them. «When we took to the streets on July 11, 2021, the protest movement was seen around the world. But what has not been seen since then is that There are more than 1,000 prisoners for protesting and that freedom of expression is being persecuted,” he insists in an attempt to sew Landrián’s fight back into his own right now. «Young people adore Landrián because they recognize him and recognize themselves in him. He is a cult filmmaker and, little by little, a flag », concludes Daranas and… scratches his head who knows if to exorcise stampedes towards futures that are past.