With the Approval of the Kremlin, an Arsenal of Russian Films Reaches Havana Cinemas

The Russian Embassy in the capital and the state film company Roskino have spared no resources so that Cuba can enjoy the “best and most modern proposals” of its filmmakers / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 April 2024 — The launch of a Russian spaceship echoed this Wednesday on the screen of the Yara cinema before the impassive faces of the spectators. The Cuban public, overshadowed by the foreign audience – guests, filmmakers and diplomats – barely survived the almost three hours of The Challenge, the first film shot in space, which served as the starting shot for the Russian Film Festival in Havana.  Faced with such a panorama, quite a few took advantage of the darkness to sneak behind the windows and return to planet

The Russian Embassy in the capital, the state film company Roskino and other Moscow companies have spared no resources so that the “Island of Freedom” – as Cuba is known in the remote Russian imagination – enjoys the “best and most modern proposals” of its filmmakers.

Neither the free admission nor the movie titles managed, however, to tempt Cubans. Very few stopped at the Yara for the premiere of The Challenge, which was attended not only by the cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy and other diplomats, but also by the film’s director, Klim Shipenko, along with several members of his team.

Indifferently, a Yara employee gave viewers a program, a pen with the festival’s colors, and a satisfaction “questionnaire” about Russian cinema. “Did you like the event? How do you value the organization? What movie did you see? How did you find out? How likely are you to attend again next year?” Overwhelmed by the interrogation, some folded the sheet of paper and looked for their seats.

The premiere of ’The Challenge’ was attended by the cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy and other diplomats, and the director of the film himself, Klim Shipenko / 14ymedio

Groups of students, several elderly people, and many Russians made up the audience for The Challenge. From the central seats, reserved for the diplomatic corps, the cultural attaché emerged and went on stage alongside Shipenko and a group of filmmakers. While they spoke – at length – about the film, the audience suffered numerous walkouts. “It’s nice to see so many people in the cinema,” said the director.

When the film finally began, the mismatch of the soundtrack – excessively loud – drove more Cubans from the Yara. The movie took care of the rest. The dialogues in Russian, often shouted, and the bloody plot of the film impressed the public. A surgeon, the program explains, goes to the International Space Station to perform an operation in the difficult conditions of the station.

Nor did the triumphant and exalted tone of Russian exploits go unnoticed. With some exceptions, such as the children’s Cheburashka cartoons – which have a Soviet version well known to Cubans – the films that Russia brings to Havana have a strong ideological component and contain a propaganda message in support of the Kremlin.

Although these values ​​– usually defended by Vladimir Putin in his speeches – are marked in The Challenge, which highlights the “technological superiority” of Russia, inherited from the Soviet Union’s space race, the most politicized film that Cubans will be able to see during the festival is The Champion of the World, by Alexey Sidorov

It deals with the well-known rivalry between two of the most controversial chess players of all time: the Russian dissident Victor Korchnoi and his eternal rival, the world champion Anatoly Karpov, a Soviet icon during the Cold War and member of the Communist Party. The story is Manichaean: although both are considered geniuses in the science game, the film presents Korchnoi as a drunk and Karpov as a brilliant young man, respectful of the country and a defender of Russia against the “deserter.”

The mismatch of the excessively loud soundtrack drove several Cubans from the Yara / 14ymedio

Curiously, and despite his loyalty to the Kremlin, Karpov – today a member of Putin’s party – was admitted to a Moscow hospital in 2022  in serious condition and under suspicious circumstances. Although his family and the Russian media denied it, one rumor indicated that it was “a warning” from Putin for his criticism of the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the propaganda and special effects of The World Champion and The Challenge, the precariousness of the Yara facilities – supposedly recently repaired – bring the Cuban viewer back to real life. Those who, fleeing from the scenes of a cosmonaut’s open-chested operation, tried to go to the bathroom in the cinema know this well.

“They disconnected everything because the water was being wasted,” explains a guard stationed near the toilets. Frustrated, spectators left the Yara convinced that – with or without Russia – the real challenge is not operating in space, but living in Cuba.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.