Cuban Revolutionary Cinema: Cecilia
Co-presented by the University of Pennsylvania’s Cinema Studies Program, Center for Africana Studies, Departments of English and Hispanic Studies, and Latin American and Latina/o Studies.
dir. Humberto Solas, Cuba, 1983, digital video, 127 mins, color, Spanish w English subtitles
The film that is storied to have led to the temporary displacement of Alfredo Guevara from his presidency of the ICAIC (Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos), Cecilia has been heavily, if not scathingly, debated in circles of Cuban film and art critics. An adaptation of the 19th century novel Cecilia Valdés, the film radically reconceives the story of a mulata so light that she can “pass,” and of such beauty that her one tool for an individual social shift is her very body. Afro-Cuban religions frame the entire cinematic narrative, which begins with a boldly and beautifully shot march of slaves and of Creole Catholics celebrating the Epiphany. The music being sung by one group and the other never blends, but pushes against each other and maintains the separation.
Patiently and compellingly, Cecilia conveys the paranoia that spread after the Haitian Revolution of 1794, the relations of criollo (a caste in the Spanish race-based colonial caste system) parents with aristocratic lusts and criollo young adults with ambiguously liberal political leanings, the violent anxieties of the system of slavery experienced by all at different intensities, and the instantiation of Independence, decolonization, as a long and bloody process.