Theater critic Norge Espinoza continues his look at the shifting relationship between Cuban theater and film in the decades since the revolution. In Part 1, he surveyed the 1950s and ’60s. Here, he continues with the 1970s, the theatrical revival of the 1980s and ’90s, and recent developments in the ongoing relationship between Cuban theater and film.

Poster designed by Raúl Martínez for Lucía (1968) by Humberto Solás

In the 1970s, there was even less interest in narrowing the gap between stage and screen. This development was profoundly influenced by the “parametrization effect,” resulting from a process initiated in 1971 by the National Cultural Council, effectively banishing from the arts those individuals whose moral, sexual, or political conduct failed to meet the “parameters” of the new social order. Not a few leaders of the theater had to step back or become invisible, and the tension that always nourishes interactions between the theater and the public became much less interesting for nearly a decade.

Nevertheless, theatrical elements did surface in the works of some of the best Cuban filmmakers. Films by Humberto Solás, such as Lucía, always used the best actors and actresses (with the unforgettable Raquel Revuelta at the top of the list), as did Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. As if in premonition of what was to come, Alea ventured into Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (A Cuban Fight Against Demons)—a delirious project that featured many performers from Ocuje, a theater group led by Roberto Blanco that included many of the victims of the parametrization effect. Manuel Octavio Gómez produced Los días del agua, a film that plays with documentary form and expressionist approaches, using the theater as a metaphor. Humberto Solás kept a theatrical atmosphere in much of his work, instilling it in moments of both Cecilia and Amada, or addressing it openly in the documentary devoted to the Buendía theater group, which had been the prime mover in the resuscitation of the theater in the early 1980s, when the mists of parametrization finally began to clear.

The playwright with the greatest luck in terms of the screen has been Eugenio Hernández Espinosa. His plays María Antonia and Mi socio Manolo have been adapted by Sergio Giral and Julio García Espinosa. He has also authored two other films: the musical Patakin (one of the cult hits of Cuban cinema, given its many excesses), and Roblé de olor. Although a dialogue with the stage was still absent in the 1980s, during this time a few films appeared that seconded what theater was saying about Cuba—for instance, Como la vida misma by Victor Casaus with Teatro Escambray, which included several actors who also appear in the comedy No hay sábado sin sol. And something unusual happened: a film script served as a basis for a theatrical success, which then led to the production Se permuta (1983), one of the most successful moments of Cuban cinema, starring the great actress Rosa Fornes, who appeared before the cameras after many years of forced retirement.

The year 1989 saw the release of two films that exemplified the mutually beneficial connection between stage and screen in the hands of an astute director: Enrique Pineda Barnet’s La bella del Alhambra and Orlando Rojas’s Papeles secundarios (Secondary Roles). It’s hard to imagine two such different works, but both covered an area of national cinema that justified them and made them transcend. La bella follows the well-worn pattern of musicals, while incorporating specifically Cuban elements that do not shy away from the sentimental, the melodramatic, and the nostalgic. The film also featured a luxurious cast, including Beatriz Valdés as the diva of the Alhambra Theater.

Papeles attempts to break the usual narrative molds and clichés to achieve unavoidable controversies. It pays tribute to Carlos Felipe, taking dialogue from his Requiem por Yarini, to show that Cuba, interpreted through a theatrical stage set and art direction, can be a more real and uncomfortable landscape on screen—and no doubt on the stage as well. I cannot close this brief review without recalling that Alberto Pedro, one of the most interesting playwrights, worked with Rigoberto López in that one-person film, La soledad de la jefa de despacho (1990), performed with her usual skill by the outstanding actress Daisy Granados.

In recent years, some directors have rushed to rescue titles that, although written forty years ago, have still failed to make it to the screen. Lester Hamlet returned to La casa vieja, by Estorino, to spark his feature-film directorial debut, and Juan Carlos Cremata turned to Hector Quintero to make El premio flaco, and is currently putting the final touches on Contigo pan y cebolla. Fernando Pérez has asked one of our best directors, Carlos Díaz, to collaborate on several of his films, such as Madrigal and El ojo del canario—an act of humility that recalls Titón asking Vicente Revuelta for his involvement in Una pelea cubana, or Carlos Celdran, a pupil of Flora Lauten and now leader of the Argos Theater, to be a co-writer of Papeles secundarios. There are not many such examples, and this situation is what causes us to speak of a “missing screen.” Or at least a screen not inhabited as much by the theatrical as we would like it to be in Cuba, where we don’t lack for talent on the stage, and yet those faces are missing from the national cinema. Let’s hope this will change with what new playwrights want to bring us, and with the efforts—both in and outside ICAIC—that today animate the new Cuban cinema, and the new theater. And the entire country.