Horn of Plenty

Last night the wife and I went to the Miami International Film Festival. We saw a comedy from Cuba called “El Cuerno de la Abundancia”. I’m always interested in seeing films from Cuba for many reasons. One of the most misunderstood things about Cuba is the way the intellectual class is treated. A friend explained it to me once and it’s still difficult to explain. Basically Cuban artists and intellectuals have some freedoms that regular Cubans don’t have. They even have some leeway to criticize the regime, though not usually directly. There have been officially sanctioned films made in Cuba that satirize the communist system etc. The way my friend explained it is that the films get made and then they are shown in one theater in Havana where all the intellectuals see it but it never sees the light of day as far as the vast majority of Cuban population is concerned.

Well, El Cuerno de la Abundancia is a film that has many layers, all of them enjoyable. There are veiled critiques of the regime and some that are more obvious.

It’s the story of Bernardito, a Cuban engineer who comes from a large family that figures to share in part of an inheritance deposited in a foreign bank. In order to make a claim on the inheritance all sorts of documents are required. The comedy ensues as Bernardito tries to get his papers in order. Bernardito’s father is a die-hard commie who won’t accept even a bit of plaster from the black market to prevent his house from falling on his own wife. Bernardito has a more realistic attitude, he runs a black market video rental business.

From a British review of the film:

The main attraction, however, is the plot’s undercurrent, which offers an absurdist, but poignant commentary on the current sociopolitical state of Cuba. From Bernadito’s Castro-loving father who wants no part of cash he suspects stems from America, to the crushing poverty many are clearly enduring (as one hopeful puts it, when learning of the prospect of easy cash, “I’ll never cook with soy again!”), the script’s hints towards the bigger picture of small and large social injustices are many and sly.

One of the sly critiques of the regime occurs right at the end of the film. After all hope for the inheritance is lost (because of the damned “blockade”, of course) the president of the “national commission” that’s investigating the eligibility of the heirs kills himself. His aide/lover appears on TV claiming to be the new president of the commission and assures the audience that although “mistakes had been made” that a new process of investigation would take place and that the inheritance would in fact be distributed to all those who rightly deserve it. The allegory will be missed by many not intimate with Cuba but the language that the new “president of the commission” uses is one that is very familiar to Cubans. It’s the endless promises of a better tomorrow, the promise to make up for past failings and a promise of future “perfecting”. The inheritance represents the fruits of the Revolution that never seem to materialize. There’s always something preventing it’s arrival.

I think the film is worth seeing. It succeeds as a comedy and also as a satire of the absurd Cuban reality.

3 thoughts on “Horn of Plenty”

  1. The Cuban regime is very clever and they often allow measured critiques of the tyranny in films. This is because Cuba’s film industry is one of its main faces to the world [ICAIC is internationally known] and they know all too well that outright propaganda will eventually tire even the most indoctrinaire castroite. This is why Cuba’s films are often more pernicious than even Gramma or Juventud Rebelde. These films give the world an impression that things are opening up in Cuba and that some dissent is tolerated. For instance, when the overhyped “Fresas y Chocolate” was released, many used it in order to support their argument that Cuba was democratizing and that we should have therefore lifted the embargo.

  2. I also thought that this particular movie blasted those who use the embrago as an excuse for the conditions within Cuba. After the news came that an “American” bank had taken control of the “English” bank and “imposed” the embargo on anyone from Cuba collecting – well, that just added to the overall “outlandishness” of the lives they were protraying. The thought that there had really been three nuns who left tons of money to a brother’s nephew, with the riches making it to a British bank and earning interest over 200 years without anyone making a claim on it was already ludicrous. So I think throwing in the embargo angle just served to ridicule the government even more – as holding up this bad embargo, when in reality the whole game is a charade! Very clever, and I give the Cuban masses some credit in being able to see this. The movie also shows how widespread bootleg videos are in society, so it may be a myth that ordinary Cubans don’t see these movies.

    I was there too Henry, and I will be at Paraiso. The Cachao show tonight was incredible.

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