Cuba’s “Transition,” Humberto Solas’ films.

Fidel Castro appeared last week in public for the first time in five years

The much ballyhooed appearance in public last week of Fidel Castro for the first time in five years may have made an impression, but his brother Raul’s promise to rejuvenate the party fell flat when he appointed an 80-year-old.

It’s been more than half a century since Fidel and his band of revolutionaries rode into Havana, ending the regime of American-supported Fulgencio Batista and setting up a Communist regime just 90 miles from the United States.

The euphoria and passionate idealism of equality and non-racialism many felt at toppling Batista quickly ended as Castro moved in a highly authoritarian direction, forcing many families to flee the island they had loved ardently.

Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solas examines Cuba’s history of race-based slavery and deeply entrenched aristocracy, the decades before Castro’s rise to power and the wrenchingly painful separations in three of his films.

Cecilia explores the history of race, hearkening back to the African culture that is an integral part of Cuban society.  In the film, he also probes the issue of mixed race and the pretentious dances and mating that occurred.  It is an honest if not uplifting view.

A Man of Success chronicles the history of two brothers from the early 1930s to Castro’s triumphant entry into Havana.  One of the brothers retains his political purity and commitment, and thus appears a heroic martyr to the cause.  The other emerges as  a cynical and calculating Andrei Gromyko-type figure.

Neither has a particularly joyful ending.

Unsurprisingly, this project, with its positive conclusion for Castro, won the Grand Prize at a Cuban film festival in 1986.

In Honey for Oshun, Roberto is a literature professor from Miami forcibly removed from his native land in the early years of the Castro regime.  After wondering for 32 years why his mother never came for him, he returns after his father’s death to find out the truth, and, on some level, to exorcise his demons.

Solas is not a subtle storyteller, and the acting often feels more than a bit wooden.  Nonetheless, for aspiring Spanish speakers and those looking to more about the beautiful island’s often tortured history, these films can do the trick.


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