Memories of Overdevelopment is a Cuban film that comes from the future. And that is a lot to say in a country like ours, condemned to survive in a perpetual and precarious present time that revolves around the same dates and hallmarks of that high-contrast story still called the Revolution.
Indeed, in the beginning it was not the Word, but the Sword. And Fidel Castro swore that the sword was good. And he turned it into Swordcialism or Death, a slogan that means more to us than one thousand and one laws. Or rather, than one thousand and 959 laws. Because memories in Cuba are symbolically bound to that date. 1959: life B.C or A.C., before Castro or after Castro.Within the Revolution and against the Revolution, but no space outside the Revolution is conceivable. That’s what totalitarianism is all about: the State as an imitation of God. And in social sets so claustrophobic, Creation must be then Reaction.
Edmundo Desnoes is a lucky writer. In Cuban literature, where he is well-known but has never been well read, he put into practice the perspective of the pariah, the lucid loser in the middle of proletarian’s paradise, the vision of the victims beyond all boasting victories, the endearing delirium of the displaced. All this in a country with an official narrative that punishes those displaced with death, from the civil to the corpse. And Edmundo Desnoes was lucky enough twice, in the beginning and in the end of his own biopics in the time of the revolution.
His two novels, Memories of Underdevelopment and Memories of Development, mutated into the screenplays of two definitive Cuban films. From the sixties to the two thousands or years zero, always touching the limits of two not-so-different violences: that is, the canonical question about what Cubanness had been or was going to be.
The telescope of the first inner-exiled Sergio, pointed to the capital of all Cubans, Havana —right in front of his face back then—, after so many decades of outer exile has become another optical artifact in the post-historical hands of the second Sergio: it’s a magnifying glass now focused in detail on his daily desires, deceptions, dreams, disappointments and —again— death.
From Northtalgia to Southnesthesia, from Sergio to Sergio 2.0, from the anachronistic analogic of the black-and-white to the rainbow of digital cut-and-paste, somewhere somehow between both movies we Cubans have left behind our old illusions of identity. Life is elsewhere. Love is nowhere. Loss is everywhere. Suddenly we are all Citizen Sergio now. Our notion of a nation is deservedly denaturalized. We try to remember an early word reminiscent of a world that turned out to be too late for us. Rosebudlution. Amnesia is even less painful than anesthesia. Yet we cannot forget a single event. Fidelity fossilizes our future. Only the Revolution remains the same. There is no exile, as there is no exit to our extreme exceptionality.
Both Memories… are less recapitulation than genesis: both generate their own type of audience. In more than one way these memories are imaginary despite being testimonial, since all collective narrative is an invention: ideology as the measure of human idiocy. In both films, the private monologue in voice-off is a replica of the monstrous monologue on top of a tribune turned into tribunal turned into scaffold turned into scarcity turned into a sinister silence. As the Cuban 21st cinematographic century is inaugurated, art approaches the autistic.
In this sense, our memories imitate mute movies. Yet, it’s not only about contesting the monolithic speech, but also an escape to it, through the ethics of multiplicity, of a displaced dialogue between the minimal citizen and the maximum leader. Thus, despite esthetic differences, both Memories… are unanimous in this paranoid presence in the first case and this schizoid absence in the second case: they both attempt to express our inexpressible condition as Cubanless Cubans, whether in the trenches of war on the Island or the tender wardrobes of exile.
Both films are renaissance masterpieces, out of the ruins of the Republic that was not and the Revolution that could have been. Beauty out of barbarism. Faith out of failure. We are so accustomed to Memories of Underdevelopment that we hardly feel its original estrangement, its narrative challenges, visual boldness and rhetorical risks. We are so unaccustomed to Memories of Overdevelopment that we only feel its estranged originality, its challenging narrative, bold visuality and risky rhetorics.
It sounds like a tongue-twister. And it is so: in totalitarian environments, after all speeches are sequestered, the labyrinth of a life in truth starts with freedom of language. I invite you tonight to experience our experimental existence as one continual character in the search of a discontinuous Cuba.
Original written in English
12 November 2014