Still from Salut les Cubains, Agnès Varda © 1963 Ciné-Tamaris

UTOPIA. Keep on Moving Films from Latin America and elsewhere

Films and Talks

Based on five films dating from 1963 to 1993, Cuban film historian Luciano Castillo Rodríguez traces Latin American cinema's political and aesthetic awakening and social utopias. Following in the footsteps of de Sica's Miracle in Milan (1951), the directors Cabrera, Sorín, Alea, Lilienthal and Varda draw on the power of poetry and emotion to tell not only of the belief that the world can change but also of its necessity.

The event takes place in cooporation with the Ibero-American Institute of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

 

Programme on Saturday, 20 Apr

3 pm
Introduction
Das Wunder von Mailand
Salut les Cubains (with introduction)

6:30 pm
Ein kubanischer Kampf gegen Dämonen (with introduction)
Followed by a talk with Luciano Castillo Rodríguez and Jeanine Meerapfel

Programme on Sunday, 21 Apr

2 pm
Introduction
Der Aufstand

4:30 pm
Der Film des Königs (with introduction)

7 pm
Die Strategie der Schnecke (with introduction)
Followed by a talk with Luciano Castillo Rodríguez and Jeanine Meerapfel

 

FILMED UTOPIAS A contribution by Luciano Castillo Rodríguez

 

Das Wunder von Mailand / Miracolo a Milano
Italy 1951, 100 min, OV with English subtitles
Direction: Vittorio De Sica
Cast: Emma Gramatica, Francesco Golisano, Paolo Stoppa

The naive main hero Toto, a foundling raised by an elderly lady, comes to Milan as a young man looking for work and a place to live. He finds shelter in a shanty town consisting of little more than a few shacks on the outskirts of the city. But Toto remains unshaken, and with his exuberance brings a breath of fresh air to the dreariness. When oil is discovered on the site, the settlement is evacuated. But Toto's miracle pigeon is able to turn evil into good. Orders become arias and soldiers become pacifists. When the inhabitants literally rise up at the end, it is because only those who believe in miracles experience miracles.

The film, based on a novella by author Cesare Zavattini, is inspired by the spirit of neorealism, the post-war wave primarily dedicated to depicting social reality. The film was shot in a semi-documentary style at authentic locations with non-professionals chosen to play the characters, bringing their own experiences into play. The director Vittorio de Sica goes one step further, however. He adds fairy-tale elements that offer a counterpoint to the real-life setting with the power of imagination and human will. In this respect, de Sica's cinema is related to Latin American cinema, which is deeply rooted in the magical realist tradition. A victory for the little people, David against Goliath. At the time, the film was accused of being quasi-religious and only wanting to offer comfort. Nevertheless, the basic question is still valid: who owns the city?

 

Salut les Cubains
France / Cuba 1963, 30 min, OV with English subtitles
Direction: Agnès Varda

Like many intellectuals of her time, filmmaker Agnès Varda was sympathetic toward the Cuban Revolution. The small Caribbean island state had managed to free itself from American “casino capitalism” all on its own. Agnès Varda went to Cuba in 1963, three years after the revolution, to see the real Cuba for herself. She returned with more than 1000 negatives for the editing table. In a playful montage, she makes photos dance to cha cha music, shows everyday street scenes and marches, observes women with their awakened self-confidence, documents the sugar cane harvest and includes a public speech by Fidel Castro. Varda's enthusiasm is palpable, but also subtly ironic. The commentary, which she delivers with actor Michel Piccoli, rhythmically accentuates the images.

 

Ein kubanischer Kampf gegen Dämonen / Una pelea cubana contra los demonios
Cuba 1972, 130 min, OV with English subtitles
Direction:Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Cast: José Antonio Rodríguez, Raúl Pomares, Silvano Rey, Mares González, Olivia Belizaire

Director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is one of the most important representatives of New Cuban Cinema. After studying law in Havana, where he met Fidel Castro, he went to Rome to study directing at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. One of his formative teachers was Cesare Zavattini, on whose novel Miracle in Milan is based. He joined the resistance against the Batista dictatorship and from then on was one of the key players in the development of the new Cuban cinema. He brought his experience of Italian neo-realism to bear in his numerous feature and documentary films. He was a co-founder of the film school at the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) in Havana. Although his films were in service of the young republic, he maintained a high degree of independence and credibility. One of his most important themes is the legitimisation of the revolution, which he derives from the devastating conditions of the colonial era. The film Una pelea cubana contra los demonios is based on the book of the same name by Cuban writer Fernando Ortiz Fernández. It is set in the Remedios region in the 17th century. A priest wants to move the community from one place to another out of self-interest. The obscurantist crusade provokes death and destruction. In his film, Alea condenses the ominous alliance of religion, power and exploitation and uses violent and expressive images to stage a crusade that leads to exorcism and mysticism.

 

Der Aufstand / La insurrección
Germany 1980, 101 min, OV with German subtitles
Direction: Peter Lilienthal
Script: Peter Lilienthal, Antonio Skármeta
Cast: Augustin Pereira, Carlos Carania, Maria Lourdes Centeno de Zelaya

Peter Lilienthal's feature film is set in Nicaragua at the time of the Sandinistas' struggle against the Somoza dictatorship in 1979. Filming began immediately, six weeks after the revolution succeeded. Lilienthal is a master at combining fiction with documentary elements, thus bringing the film close to the events of the time. The popular uprising in Leon, which played a decisive role in the outcome of the revolt, takes centre stage. He uses a family story to illustrate his fundamental questions about the relationship between violence and rebellion. The son of a middle-class family who serves in the military is subsequently persuaded by his father to desert and ultimately joins the resistance. Lilienthal shot the film with the participation of the citizens, the former urban guerrillas and units of the liberation army. Michael Ballhaus was behind the camera. The screenplay was written in collaboration with Chilean author Antonio Skármeta, who, as a supporter of Allende, had to leave Chile after the coup.

 

Der Film des Königs / La Película del Rey
Argentina 1986, 104 min, OV with German subtitles
Direction: Carlos Sorín
Cast: Ulises Dumont, Julio Chávez, Roxana Berco

In this convoluted film-within-a-film construction, Argentinian director Carlos Sorín combines the true story of Frenchman Orélie Antoine, a (real) adventurer who proclaimed himself King of Araucania and Patagonia in Tierra del Fuego in 1860, with the (fictional) story of a director named Arturo who tries to film this bizarre story and gets caught up in a maelstrom of difficulties: the producer backs out, there is a lack of money, and the actors leave the set. Arturo devises ever more absurd tricks to save the project. He replaces the missing actors with mannequins and soon takes on the lead role himself. In surreal images, the over-the-top mirror fencing develops into a ludicrous parable about filmmaking and the insanity of megalomania.

 

Die Strategie der Schnecke / La Estrategia del Caracol
Italy / Colombia / France 1993, 116 min, OV with German subtitles
Direction: Sergio Cabrera
Cast: Fausto Cabrera, Frank Ramírez

The comedy is set in an apartment block in the historic centre of Bogotá. A speculator wants to evict the tenants from the building. The residents, however, all have good reasons not to be evicted. But where regular means cannot help, resistance and cunning are required. This is how the colourful society comes together: the anarchist who has learned his “trade” from earlier battles, the young revolutionary who has only rehearsed the uprising so far, a lawyer, albeit without a licence, a priest seeking happiness in this world, a trans person and a woman with her seriously ill husband. The film is a hymn to public spirit and solidarity with the clear message that it is worth fighting back.

 

FILMED UTOPIAS

No one has been able to define utopia more precisely than Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, as that which we will achieve “when we are able to live every day as if it were the first, and every night as if it were the last”.

The moving image had been such a utopia of humankind since its beginnings, and possibly even before, until we finally succeeded in making the image work, capturing it with a camera and projecting it onto a white surface populated by trembling dreams. Since these beginnings, it has rained a lot, a practically never-ending rain, as if from a story by García Márquez; and cinema, now elevated to the status of the seventh art, still needs utopias – as does humankind.

These date back to a time when silence reigned in cinema theatres, interrupted only by a piano, a few musicians, who were sometimes booed by the audience, or even an entire orchestra. A Cuban poet, Fina García Marruz, succeeds in capturing the nature of silent film in just two verses: “It doesn't lack sound, it has silence”. German filmmaker Fritz Lang, who belongs to that select group of people for whom the word ‘genius’ is simply inadequate, continues to thrill and unsettle audiences with Metropolis; while the magic of Zavattini, the patriarch of Italian neorealism, allows Totò (il buono) to take off with other characters on a flight over a wondrous Milan.

What greater utopia could there be than a victorious revolution on a small Caribbean island, just 90 nautical miles from an ever-threatening Goliath? Like other filmmakers – including Kurt Maetzig – Agnés Varda, who had found refuge in Paris, could not stand idly by, and landed in Havana with a camera in her luggage. She travelled from one end of the country to the other with it, driven by the desire not to miss a single motif. How she manages to unearth this enormous visual treasure in the editing room is one of the great secrets of Salut les cubains.

Years later, when the new Cuban cinema was wowing audiences and winning prizes at the Leipzig Festival, one of its most important representatives, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, travelled back to the 17th century to reflect on the turbulence of his own time. In doing so, he does not hesitate to confront the demons that were to darken the cultural life of an entire period. The restless and perceptive artist Peter Lilienthal, who passed away in April 2023, likewise cannot help but take a stand regarding another struggle. He sees how the Sandinistas are on the verge of achieving a seemingly utopian liberation and sets off to Nicaragua to film the uprising of the masses.

In another corner of Latin America, a group of neighbours come together. They hole up in their house and – equipped with a very effective strategy – oppose the machinations of a property shark.

At the southern tip of the continent, in Argentina, a young cineaste marches towards the horizon with a sword in one hand and a film camera in the other, determined to make his film at any cost.

Our selection for this weekend, cognisant of the risks to which every selection is subject, aims to approach this and many other chimeras. Carlos Sorín, at the time still a true newcomer to the genre of fictional feature films, puts a categorical sentence into the mouth of his protagonist that is representative of so many cineastes, not only but especially in the new Latin American cinema, the only truly continental movement in the history of cinema: “I will continue on this path until death!”

Luciano Castillo Rodríguez

Der Aufstand, Peter Lilienthal © Filmmuseum Berlin - Deutsche Kinemathek

Der Film des Königs, Carlos Sorín © trigon-film.org

Der Film des Königs, Carlos Sorín © trigon-film.org

Die Strategie der Schnecke, Sergio Cabrera © Kairos-Filmverleih

Die Strategie der Schnecke, Sergio Cabrera © Kairos-Filmverleih

Die Strategie der Schnecke, Sergio Cabrera © Kairos-Filmverleih

20 — 21 Apr

Hanseatenweg

Studio

Sat 3 – 10 pm &
Sun 2 – 10 pm

Films from Vittorio De Sica, Agnès Varda, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Peter Lilienthal, Carlos Sorín, Sergio Cabrera
All films in Original Version with German and English subtitles

Introductions and talks with Luciano Castillo Rodríguez (Director of the Cuban Cinematheque) and Jeanine Meerapfel
In Spanish and German

In Cooperation with the Ibero-American Institute of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Ticket € 6/4

Day pass € 12/9

Buy day pass 21 Apr online