With Fidel Whatever Happens

By - 13 September, 2012

With Fidel Whatever Happens (Con Fidel Pase que lo Pase), directed by Serbia’s Goran Radovanović for Nama and See Film, is a stylised snapshot of Cuban life. If you are familiar with Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline, On the Buses, Benny Hill and Keeping up with the Kardashians, you have all the cultural ingredients necessary to appreciate this documentary. It is certainly colourful; it is sometimes droll; entrancing at times; it captures the resourcefulness of the Cubans as the masters of make-do-and-mend and their patience, but ultimately it’s all rather disappointing.

Beauty in the service of…

What doesn’t disappoint is the colour, light, the fecundity and luxuriance of the landscape and the languid tempo. It’s oddly reassuring and comforting even when the subject is so ponderously put together. What am I saying? It’s the documentary as a sedative. It’s a garden chair of a film on a hot summer afternoon.

It isn’t enough to stick a camera on something that moves in the hope that it’ll capture something interesting. Nor it is enough, to take mundanity on its own merits. People understand it too well. Indeed, in this instance, despite a solicitous use of editing, the film comes across as being too contrived for its own good. Well, simple mundanity is one thing – but juggling around with it in an editing suite seems pointless.

Have bike, will infuriate

The film starts with an old man as he rides a putt-putt motorbike combo which is doing its best to impersonate a two-stroke lawn mower. The theme is repetitive and the bike and its elderly rider turn up at intervals throughout the film – latterly with a megaphone singing the revolution’s praises. Long after any sensible person would have pushed it off the road into the undergrowth – it continues to turn up here, there and everywhere.

Welcome to…

The action focuses on an intersection in some sleepy town. A singer in a white dress carrying a parasol struggles to stay in revolutionary tune (another repeated motif); a salsa band (a very good one) strikes up for no apparent reason on a stage off the dusty town square; a man is having a shave in the same sleepy street; people wait on buses or travel on buses in the countryside; a man sits in a dentist’s chair in the foreground of two giant molar teaching aids and a smiling mouth of perfect teeth painted on the wall saying “hygiene equals health”; oddly two-dimensional looking horses appear here and there and we are treated to the sort of banal telephone conversations which we all have with friends, family, lovers and businesses.

Rural rides

At a rural bus stop an immaculately attired black conductor alights from a moss- and mildew-stained lorry-cum-bus which has long shed the pigment from its paint work. A gaggle of schoolchildren form a Madeline crocodile in a time-lapse sequence of comings and goings at the bus top. This isn’t enough, though, to sustain much interest in the film. Nor is the casual use of a Soviet flag as an impromptu barber’s cape for the ageing biker’s 50th Anniversary of the Revolution haircut on May Day. It is contrived – so much so – that it comes as no surprise that this would be its fate.

Revolutionary posters pronounce the thoughts of Fidel Castro: “… cuánta historia está unida a este lugar… ¡cuánta historia! / So much history in this place, so much history.” This is true, of course, but you aren’t going to find any in this film.

Come back Tia Doria, all is forgiven

In the end I was left thinking that my aunt did better on her two week holiday on the Costa Brava in 1959 with her Super 8 cine camera. She could do local colour and what’s more she could have taught Radovanović a thing or two about narrative and composition.

With Fidel Whatever Happens is part of Resistencia: Focus on Latin America, a journey across Latin America today in documentary and discussion being held on Saturday 22nd September 2012 at Rich Mix Cinema. More details can be found at richmix.org.uk or dochouse.org.

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