Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's in a Name?

Film: Lucia
Format: DVD from Chip Lary’s personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

One of the issues I have with The List is that there is very much a sense of some films being on the list strictly because of their obscurity. While a many, perhaps even the vast majority of films on the 1001 Movies list foster a nod from those who have seen them, there are some that instead cause a head scratch in response. It’s not that the films are specifically bad, but that they are incredibly difficult to find. Lucia from director Humberto Solas is one such film.

The idea of the film is fascinating. We follow three individual stories, one after the other, at specific times in the history of Cuba. In each case, the main character is a woman named Lucia, and it’s a different woman every time. (In other words, it’s not the same Lucia at three different stages of her life, but three different women at key points in the history of Cuba.) Additionally, while historical events swirl around our three heroines, the stories themselves are essentially romances.

In the first story, which takes place during the Cuban war for independence from Spain, our first Lucia (Raquel Revuelta) falls in love with a man named Rafael (Eduardo Moure). Rafael is in a precarious position in that while he is at least part Cuban, he was raised in Spain and lived most of his life there. He wishes to marry Lucia, but we discover that he already has a wife and child back in Spain, thus causing a massive scandal. Lucia doesn’t care. She wishes to run off with Raphael to the family’s coffee plantation where they can be alone and hide from the war.

The second story takes place during the 1930s, and I’ll be honest, I’m not up on Cuban history enough to know exactly what happened there in the 1930s. There was some sort of uprising, evidently, because there’s a lot of fighting going on and talk of overthrow of the government. This Lucia (Eslinda Nunez) falls for a man named Aldo (Ramon Brito), who is a revolutionary in the war. When the government overthrow is successful, the proposed and promised changes never occur, which makes Aldo bitter. And eventually the fighting starts up again.

Finally, we get to what we assume is the film’s present day. The third Lucia (Adela Legra) marries Tomas (Adolfo Llaurado). He immediately decides she should never leave the house and should exist only for him. This means she becomes a prisoner and is no longer allowed to work on the collective farm. When a teacher arrives to instruct her on literacy, the trouble really starts because of Tomas’s maniacal jealousy.

In each case, the historic moment in question is viewed through the lens of one woman’s love affair or marriage, which has the potential to be a very interesting lens, indeed. However, Humberto Solas effectively prevents these women from having anything like even the most remote working knowledge of the issues in question. Instead of actually viewing these historic events, we see only those things that affect the women in question. We don’t know the first Lucia’s take on the revolution—only that she wishes her brother and her lover to remain safe. The third Lucia is only concerned with her personal freedom and learning to read and write, not with the greater good of the communists.

It’s also worth noting that there are some moments here that look like they either came from or were used to influence the stereotypical telenovela. The most entertaining of these is when the first Lucia reunites with Rafael. They moon about for a bit until the big reveal moment when she rips his shirt open and starts rubbing her face on his manly chest hair. As this happens, the music swells to something of almost biblical proportions. I realize this is meant to be a true moment of romance, but I can’t help but see it as incredibly comic.

It’s interesting, especially in the third story, that what Solas achieves seems to be exactly counter to his final political statement. The final story contains the message that in the new communist society, women are no longer to be treated as possessions, but as fellow comrades and fellow valuable workers. However, in each story, each of the three Lucias is only concerned for her own well-being. Each is almost entirely oblivious of the larger story playing out around her. In the middle story, in fact, I got the distinct impression that the larger events were not only relatively uninteresting or unimportant to Lucia, but that she was complete incapable of understanding them. In short, while women are to be valued as more than property, they still aren’t worth taking too seriously. Ultimately, Solas seems to say, women will work only for their own benefit and for their own selfish reasons.

While Lucia is an interesting idea for a film, it is uneven in its execution and too simply misogynist to take that seriously.

Why to watch Lucia: A fascinating idea for a film.
Why not to watch: Eventually, each story turns into screaming.

6 comments:

  1. Of the three stories, the middle one was the one I was most interested in. The first one, although it took me a little while to catch on what was going to happen, eventually played out like I expected (except for the naked guys on horses - still not sure what the heck that was about.)

    The last story was too heavy handed on the communist idealogies for me, with the husband being cartoonishly one-dimensional and obviously there to represent the non-communists. Of course, not many men would be happy about their wives being considered available for all, including a hunky teacher who he is forced to board in his house with his wife. To paraphrase the old joke, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there's nothing going on."

    I agree with you that this movie was made for people with a whole lot more knowledge of the last 70 years (at that time) of Cuba's history.

    And a disadvantage of reviewing obscure films is that you probably will not get many comments on this post.

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    1. True. I pretty much expected no comments. That's going to be a theme for the next month or so.

      My problem with the middle story was that I had no context for it. As a story, it was fine. I just didn't feel like I understood its importance.

      The last story, as you say, is pretty heavy-handed. I'm not sure that Lucia III was "available for all," considering that her husband wouldn't let her talk to anyone if he wasn't present--not even her mother. As for the teacher, it seemed to me that his only interest in Lucia was getting her out of that situation.

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    2. Actually, of the three, the middle story was the one where I had the least historical context as well. I knew that a couple years after the first story we were going to fight the Spanish American War and capture Cuba, so I knew Spain was still going to own it, and I knew a few years before the third story, Castro came to power then a couple years later declared himself a communist. Perhaps it was the fact that the middle story did separate from the historical backdrop for me that I just paid attention to the two characters and not what the director was trying to say.

      I worded the "available for all" thing badly. I didn't mean sexually. I meant that she was being prevented from being a good communist by not being allowed to go with someone whenever they showed up wanting her to work in the fields for them, or cook for them, or any number of other things they wanted her to do for them, as every good communist is apparently supposed to do. And I agree that the teacher initially only wanted to teach her to read, but I feel that his interest became very personal once he was living in the same house with her and came to know her - which is exactly what the husband feared. Cartoonish as he was, he wasn't wrong about what would happen between the two of them.

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    3. I see what you're saying about the husband. I'd venture to say, though, that what happened between Lucia and the teacher was caused by the husband's actions.

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  2. I agree that ultimately the film takes a misogynistic bent (that little girl laughing at Lucia and Tomas on the beach? what the hell?) but I disagree that the middle Lucia was unconcerned about political events. She actively participated in the strike, actively flamed party fires, and lashed out friends who had forgotten the cause. I didn't feel she was only doing it because Aldo wanted her to, but because she wanted to. Aldo came first, but the cause (whatever it was) came second.

    The shirt-ripping-open scene didn't remind me of a telenovela. Instead, it pissed me off. I was like, "Lucia - run away. Run away. Leave him. He just tried to rape you. RUN AWAY. NO, DON'T WALK OVER TO HIM. STOP WALKING OVER TO HIM. WHY ARE YOU KISSING HIM, YOU IDIOT?!?!?!?"

    The first and third Lucias ticked me off because the Lucias were all "My man is deceitful/abusive, but dang it all, I love him anyway and keep going back for more."

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    1. I'll stand corrected on Lucia Mach II. But it's still misogynist throughout.

      And yes, I thought the same thing about the shirt-ripping scene, but I couldn't help laughing at her rubbing her face on his chest hair.

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