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Mar 30, 2009

Review: Fidelity

by Katharina Chase

Fidelity (Requiem por Fidel)

“How is Fidel?” asks the interviewer. Some say he’s well. Others, say he’s dying. After watching Alessandra Magnaghi and Ortensia Visconti’s Fidelity, we come to realise that no one really knows. Castro is like a mystical deity, a figurehead; asking ‘how is Fidel?’ is like asking ‘do you believe in God?’

This complex film shows us the various layers of modern-day Cuban society and how it was shaped, through the United States’ involvement (some might say, interference) and Fidel Castro’s lengthy communist dictatorship, which will no doubt soon come to an end.

We’re shown a beautiful Cuba, with stunningly gorgeous people, provocative and hypnotic dancing, an array of colours, sights and sounds that excite the senses. But there are also concrete, dilapidated buildings, impoverished people and a sense of indifference or complacency. Archive film footage from Castro’s early years floods the screen. We hear his voice, speaking good English, and he appears something of a hero to be admired; a revolutionary. We then hear about the great things Castro did for Cuba – free healthcare and education for all. A number of Cubans, those who lived in a pre and post-Castro Cuba are still passionately loyal to the dictator, grateful for the sanitised media of the country and happy not to be exposed to ‘American propaganda’. They are upset at the thought that Castro will soon die and Cuba will never be the same, it seems, as Cubans will no longer live happily with all their needs met.

It soon becomes apparent that this is not the experience of all Cubans. There are so many living in poverty, some turning to prostitution to make a living. Some want to leave Cuba; some have already left, risking illegal immigration into the nearby United States. We learn that the large Cuban community living in Florida is already in celebration mode, waiting with baited breath to rejoice at the death of Castro.

One of the most striking aspects of this film is the level to which propaganda has affected individuals’ views – so striking, in fact, that it is initially confusing. Is Castro really a good guy? Did he really manage to put Communism into practice successfully? Did he help make Cuba a better place? The difference of opinion is remarkable.

In general, the young people want change and are anti-Castro, but the old are still loyal and remember ‘the good old days’ with a tear or two. There are some who seem genuine believers in the dictatorship, but it is too easy to question their sincerity. One man seems battered, as though he’s had every ounce of any capacity to stand firm in his own belief knocked out of him over the years of living under a Communist regime. His eyes are wet, as though the emotion is trapped inside, waiting to pour out, and although he seems on Castro’s side, he declares that Capitalism is totally wrong and Socialism is only slightly better. Similarly, the actress Maria Antonia tells us how sad she is at the thought that Castro may soon die, and her eyes too are wet with tears. But there is something withheld about her, and we can’t be sure if she is genuine or whether the years of repressing her individuality have gotten the better of her. After all, she is also an actress…

With a great soundtrack, wonderful Cuban dancing, the full spectrum of emotion penetrates and permeates every single moment of this wonderful film. We finish watching on the edge of our seats: what will really happen when Castro is finally and officially dead?

Katharina Chase
London-based Australian writer, linguist and social historian

Posted in: Reviews

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