Thursday, November 9, 2017

Carols Lechuga's SANTA & ANDRÉS explores Cuba's repression of its artists and GLBTs

SANTA & ANDRÉS takes us back to territory -- the manner in which Fidel Castro's Cuba ostracized, imprisoned and worse so many artists it considered to be politically incorrect, as well as its GLBT population -- we haven't much explored since Julian Schnabel's excellent film, Before Night Falls. If this new movie from Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga is not nearly as high-powered, starry (it gave Javier Bardem one of his best and most gloriously realized roles to date) nor visually accomplished as Schnabel's, it is still a humane, moving and worthwhile piece of work.

Señor Lechuga, shown at right, keeps thing small-scale in every way: small town, low-key characters, and situations in which the filmmaker tries his best to avoid melodrama, and generally does this well, without sacrificing the drama inherent in the story itself.

A woman, Santa (the powerful new actress, Lola Amores, shown below), is told by her town's authority figure to do her civic duty by "guarding" a gay writer/political prisoner, Andrés, who appears to be under some kind of "house arrest" and especially to keep him from stirring up any trouble during a conference at which important people (perhaps foreigners, too) will attend.

Cuba's "take" on the GLBT community -- nasty, repressive and more than a little backward even for its time -- is one of the great shames of the Castro era, despite the little country's large strides in education and health care for its citizens. One of the strengths of Santa & Andrés is how it makes us quietly aware of the repressive government's entry into the lives of it citizens, robbing them in the process of their very humanity and causing them to not just betray their comrades but themselves, as well.

Andrés (the sad-sack-sexy Eduardo Martinez, above) has continued writing clandestinely and initially wants as little to do with Santa, as she wants with him. Yet proximity does wonders, and very slowly the two feint and parry and slowly begin to bond.

While this is of course expected, writer/director Lechuga and his two actors handle it all so well that there is little sense of cliché or predictability here. The filmmaker also makes certain that if the bond moves one step ahead, it will just as likely soon move a step or two back.

Meanwhile we get to know that town "boss," a hot and handsome abuser who's as worthless as he is powerful (played by George Abreu), as well as a young man known as The Mute (Cesar Domínguez), who is hot, handsome and also mightily hung, who makes frequent visits to our hero and is paid with what little Andrés can offer for these trysts.

Mostly, though, it's the relationship between our two that provides the film's main interest and keeps it going and growing. Santa and Andrés go to the beach, have a drink in the local bar, confide, fight, connect and finally...  But no spoilers.

You'll be glad to have gotten to know these people, and to wonder if, after all, much has changed in Cuba since that sour time in the 1980s. Perhaps not, as this movie was banned in its home country and even withdrawn from competition in the Havana Film Festival New York. From Breaking Glass Pictures and Cinema Tropical and running 105 minutes, the movie opens tomorrow, Friday, November 10, in New York City at the Cinema Village. Elsewhere? Nothing scheduled yet, but a DVD release is expected to arrive this coming Tuesday, November 14, from Breaking Glass.

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