25 December 2018 | EdgarST
A remarkable first work from Cuba
At the conclusion of «El Secadero» I felt the same enthusiasm I experience whenever I see a fine work by a young filmmaker. Directed by Cuban José Luis Aparicio Ferrera, it is an intense drama that unfolds skillfully, with superbly dosed elements of comedy. Behind the humor, there is a painful drama, something real that takes place today anywhere, the kind of dramatic events that bring despair and kills us a little, but forces us to come to life every day.
A few years ago, in my little researches and lucubrations of current Cuban cinema --made at a distance, without experiencing the daily difficulties of the island, including those for making films--, I referred to a "cinema of the debris", to a courageous and valuable cinema, well-documented in the street, in lack and abandonment. «El Secadero» belongs to that lineage, a noble catalog of images, sounds and situations that speak in a stark manner of what is experienced, suffered, enjoyed and loved in Cuba. The story, without betraying its realism, knows how to incorporate dramatic resources of other genres, to enrich it, relax us and increase its impact. In this case, as an integral part of the packaging, but also as a gift from scriptwriters Daniel Delgado Saucedo and Aparicio Ferrera, there is a delightful and refreshing cinephile undercurrent, which often emerges and enhances the pleasure of experiencing the film.
From the first scene in the location called El Secadero, the balance between humor and drama is established. The movie introduces official Fondón (Jorge Molina), a mature agent who tries to seduce a young colleague (Amalia Gaute), during a mission inspired from some film of smugglers. He recounts fragments of films, recites dialogues and pretends to be an officer with 300 men under his command. But she is keen on the mission. Soon a suspicious car arrives and the cards are cast: in this story, several bodies will fall... as in a "film noir", as in a romantic melodrama with a tragic detective background.
The opening duo leads us to the two leading police officers, a kind of comedy double act, an erratic and clumsy couple, determined to fulfill their duty, but with enough time to have a good time and goof off for a while. Mario and Camacho (Eduardo Martínez and Raúl Capote, whose comic vein I did not know) do not get help from the forensic doctor when they find the head of a lieutenant called Padrino (Godfather), or from a pretty street walker on duty (Andrea Doimeadiós) that treats them with disdain, while they follow the trail to a serial killer on the loose. Thieves also do not "respect" them; they steal the officers' bicycles and with them also goes Padrino's severed head.
The succession of characters that (reluctantly) help them to decipher the enigma is worthy of a comic bunch in the Takashi Miike style (played by Manuel Romero, Enmanuel Galbán, Dana Estévez and Pancho García). However, everything leads to tragedy in an underworld that I never saw "in direct" in Cuba, but of which I had news and that I once read well-described in a very good script by Fabien Pisani, with its slums, improvised casinos and corruption; and suggested in the non-filmed script "CubaXtreme" («Señora 22» in its soft-core version), which Adrián García Bogliano and I co-wrote for Jorge Molina to direct.
The audience has to make the connections and deductions, read the social and political comments told without underlining words. We have to take part in the investigation: we have to deduce the implications of the high judicial power and the suggestive metaphor of the "serial killer" that affects the lives of ordinary people, inferred in this magnificent film about widespread corruption in our societies.
In order to create these milieux and atmospheres that go from hilarious to impacting, the harmony of the cast superlatively helped the story. There is no jarring note. The leads are finely calibrated in their highlight scenes, and in their brief interventions, the supporting cast is successful, and veterans are customarily correct, while young Mónica Molinet becomes a pleasant revelation. Actor-filmmaker Jorge Molina deserves a special mention: here he finds a role to his measure and gives us an excellent interpretation, savoring that cinephilia that, in real life, animates his films and his existence.
In the selection of locations and the work of the art director, «El Secadero» reminded me of Ismael Perdomo's drama «Kill, That God Forgives.» Both films share a clever selection of localizations, a distinguished way of recording and illuminating them, which not only create effective and attractive cinematographic spaces (as that mobile shot with lights and mirrors in the background, when the policemen enter the casino), but give Cuban cinema a different and elaborate face, which does not decorate them, but distinguish and enhance the beauty of the surroundings.
With this 28 minute film, José Luis Aparicio Ferrera does a compact, well-assembled work, that always manages to maintain our interest, that smoothly takes us along with the story, entertains us and moves us. A big applause for José Luis, welcome and we want more!