‘Corazon Azul’ by Miguel Coyula

It would be better to think of Corazon Azul (Blue Heart), the new film by Cuban independent Miguel Coyula, as a quirky political satire for the digital age rather than science fiction. As science fiction, the plot could take place anywhere. Genetic experiments have produced human mutants with strange powers who go rogue. But it happens in Cuba, where the aim is to create Che Guevara’s ‘New Man’ and the secret project is called ‘the Guevara experiment’.


Coyula is a contrarian who is more than a remarkable director but also his own scriptwriter, cinematographer, editor and sound designer, supported by faithful collaborators, especially Lynn Cruz, his lead actor, co-producer, production designer, and dare I say muse. The film itself is certainly a great act of love, ten years in the making and partly crowdfunded. Coyula, who also acts in the film and contributes to the music, practices a form of underground filmmaking partly because he has to and partly because he’s a born digital filmmaker, unburdened by the industrial division of labour. Film-school trained, the film that first drew him to international attention, Memorias de desarrollo (‘Memories of Overdevelopment’, 2010) is an experimental tour-de-force, a dazzling and disconcerting display of digital effects and bravura editing. A reflection on emigration and the crisis of national identity, the direct allusion of the title to T.G.Alea’s classic film of 1968, and the collaboration on the script of Alea’s collaborator Edmundo Desnoes, signalled an active relation to the heritage of the experimental 60s which is characteristic of Coyula’s generation of independent Cuban filmmakers. Filmed in New York, his protagonist is an exiled and alienated Cuban intellectual, and the result points to a new perspective within the representational space of Cuban cinema – a new emotional geography, that of a displaced born-and-bred Cuban looking back at Cuba from abroad. The condition is not dissimilar to what Hamid Naficy has called ‘nomadic cinema’, which expresses the anxiety that goes with the experience of personal dislocation in the post-colonial diaspora, the social and cultural disruption it produces everywhere. But Coyula went home, and obstinately refused to compromise.

Memorias de desarrollo did not fail to impress at least some of the critics in Havana. Juventud Rebelde wrote:

‘Without in any way giving up personal poetics…the filmmaker has distilled his communicational purpose, and produced an ambitious film, charged with transtextual references, a conscientious and meticulous sequel to an indisputable classic whose majesty has been lovingly challenged, and somehow transcended, by means of visual and aural montage techniques that confer an allusive will and almost unfathomable symbolic ambition.’ *

His subsequent films have been more explicit. Nadie (Nobody, 2017) is a documentary in which the nobody of the title is the dissident writer Rafael Alcides, whom the film presents in an imaginary conversation with Fidel Castro. This was a step too far for authority, which is clearly nervous of anything that might sully Fidel’s memory. The Party is also defensive about its own episodes of intolerance, as other instances have shown. The film was suppressed. Coyula himself became a nobody. But not to his peers. In the new film, one of the actors is the doyen of living Cuban film directors, Fernando Pérez. Another, in a bit part, is the Austrian documentarist Hubert Sauper, who was there shooting his own film on Cuba, with a rather different slant.

Corazon Azul owes something to the space of imaginative freedom that Pérez opened up on Cuban screens in the 1990s but moves into quite different territory. Pérez is always focussed on his characters’ inner life within concrete settings. Coyula’s characters are cyphers of impersonal forces in strange and abstracted locations. It is not their private fantasies that are phantasmagoric but the film itself. The narrative is elliptical and disjointed, the science never spelt out, the dominant mode is montage, scenes are punctuated by interpolated symbolic images, sometimes provocative, sometimes a bit too obvious.

This will please many viewers who have already adopted a manichaean view of the Cuban state, while others will see it as nothing more than blatant counter-revolutionary propaganda. Both might miss the point of the montage at the beginning on ‘the state of the world’ which begins with Obama declaring that science holds the key. Actually, I’m reminded of a story about the British censors confronted with an avant-garde film from France in the 1920s, refusing it a certificate on the grounds that they couldn’t understand it, but if there was anything in it to understand, it was undoubtedly offensive. The point is that it’s meant to be. But rather than project it all back on Cuba, the dystopia evoked in Corazon Azul is all around us, and everywhere the state depends on mythical figures and is responsible for our collective paranoia.

* www.juventudrebelde.cu/cultura/2011-02-27/cinco-nombres-a-tener-en-cuenta-desde-ya


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