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PROMOTING the cinema of social critique that Cuba is famous for, Fatima of Fraternity Park was a suitably challenging opening to the Havana Glasgow Film Festival (HGFF). Jorge Perugorria’s film, depicting the life of a transvestite male prostitute, typifies changing social attitudes on the island.
In cinema, it was spearheaded by director Tomas Alea, who also headed the Cuban Film Institute, and HGFF is celebrating his work along with that of Perugorria. The institute was founded in the immediate aftermath of the revolution to educate a largely illiterate population and is still going strong.
Looking at the issue of LGBT+ rights is a fascinating way to monitor evolving social attitudes since the revolution and the role of Cuban film in the ongoing dialectic. A landmark film is Alea’s Strawberries and Chocolate, from 1994, which lightheartedly equates sexuality to different flavours of ice cream.
Set in the 1970s, before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Cuba, it charts the growing friendship between a sophisticated gay art curator and a straight young revolutionary.
It was designed to provoke a change in social attitudes, reflecting the Castro government’s change of attitude, and is credited with introducing a new liberalism to Cuba. It made a star of Fatima’s director Perugorria, who plays the gay character.
Both films share a modest budget and a big social ambition. In both, Havana is a stage where people play out social roles, but if Alea’s film is a dialogue, Perugorria’s is a monologue.
Alea’s engages the audience as one half of a budding friendship with a gay man, while Perugorria’s has no such character and lapses back into the old Cuban stereotype of homosexuality as a male fantasy to be commodified.
Fatima suffers, without a positive destiny, yet it is still a daring and provocative film that bears witness to the plight of an abused minority. You need to educate yourself in the remarkable history of Cuban cinema and Cuban attitudes to LGBT+ issues to make sense of it.
Both films are as much a challenge to audiences in Glasgow as to those in Cuba, and no doubt there’ll be more to be savoured over the coming days of screenings and discussions.
HGFF runs until Saturday November 16, programme details: hgfilmfest.com
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