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.
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.