Kabir Vega Castellanos
HAVANA TIMES — I am rather disappointed with Cuban cinema in general but, after hearing many positive comments about Daranas’ new film Conducta (“Conduct”), I managed to overcome my misgivings and went to see it.
The movie had a promising beginning. The debut of child actor Armando Valdes Freyre is the most convincing part of the film, which tells a few truths and has a very good ending. Now, this whole business about the film being “the best thing to hit Cuban screens in 15 years” strikes me as rather much. I believe the film has many positive aspects but a great many shortcomings as well.
Showing a social worker and a police officer express so much concern for Chala, the main character, struck me as a political game that was far too convenient and accommodating. Then, they try to throw in a pinch of realism by insinuating the police are corrupt and arrests the man from Cuba’s interior so that he, in his desperate situation, will bribe them.
There are a number of absurd scenes: Chala breaks a kid’s nose and he agrees to settle the issue through a competition, instead of plotting his revenge. In such circles, the most normal thing in the world would have been to gang up on Chala. On the other hand, it makes no sense that they should catch Chala in the act and that the other kid swimming with him should be left unpunished.
Another thing I don’t buy is the “correctional school” shown in the film. A friend of mine who was sent to one told me that, his first days there, he had to fight one kid who kept provoking. He won that fight, but his adversary paid another kid to beat him up.
My friend couldn’t handle this new opponent and they beat the life out of him. So later on he went for a piece of pipe and, while the kid slept, hit him so brutally they had to rush him to the hospital. The “correctional school” in Daranas’ film is a school for saints.
There are other unrealistic situations in the film, and a melodramatic tone weakens many scenes. The movie doesn’t provide an up-to-date portrait of Cuban schools: you don’t see the class differences, as you do in primary schools (the backpacks, brand shoes, expensive snacks, cell phones and MP3 players; the only MP3 player they show at one point is used as a pretext for Chala to go in defense of his girl, like a gentleman, but you never see her using one in the film).
The fact this girl, Jenny, places a religious stamp on the classroom bulletin board to express her pain over the death of one of the classmates, is clearly an excuse to touch on the issue of religious prejudice. As for me, I don’t know of a single kid who feels that the bulletin board in his or her classroom expresses anything of importance for them.
The film attempts to reflect Cuban reality, but why does it not show how even your colleagues and friends betray you when their jobs are endangered? That’s the customary thing here; Carmela’s co-workers, however, support her to the end. We don’t see anyone trying to climb the ladder through political maneuvers either.
To top things off, they fire Carmela at a time when there’s such a shortage of teachers that they can get away with practically anything. My secondary school teacher was an alcoholic – he even drank in the classroom. All of us knew he hid the bottle in a milk carton and took a swig whenever he got the chance. His breath always smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot.
One day, drunk, he hit two students who weren’t even from his classroom in the face. What punishment did he receive? A mild, 3-month suspension.
In the end, Conducta’s portrayal of today’s Cuba is far too naive.