A Hymn to Dignity
Marti: The Eye of the Canary, a film long-awaited by the aficionados of the seventh art, was shown in the Charles Chapín cinema in Havana the first week in April. It is a feature-length film, half-fiction-half-true, structured in four chapters that introduce the inner world and character formation which determined the historic significance of José Martí. It was created by a first class team led by Fernando Perez, director and screenwriter; Raul Perez Ureta (2010 National Film Prize), photography; Erick Grass, artistic director; Edesio Alejandro, soundtrack; and in the major roles were: Broselianda Hernandez (Leonor Perez) and Rolando Brito (Mariano Martí), supported by the performances of young Damian Rodriguez and Daniel Romero (Marti) and Eugenio Torroella and Fernando López (Fermin). The critics are now busy with this inspiring film now, so I will concern myself with the characteristics of its director, the figure of Martí and the message it contains.
Fernando Perez Valdes, the most noted Cuban filmmaker of the 1990s of and winner of the National Film Award in 2007, is the father of this film. As a he child became trapped in the web of film thanks to the impact on him of The Bridge over the River Kwai (1957), a film that chronicles the construction of a railroad bridge by prisoners of war, and which highlights the cultural differences and the similarities of feelings between captives and captors. Driven by this perception he entered ICAIC, where he gained much experience, in parallel with his college studies. He was a production and direction assistant, and worked on ICAIC News. His influences included Cuban filmmakers such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Santiago Álvarez, Manuel Octavio Gómez, Manuel Herrera, Sergio Giral and José Massip among others, and outsiders such as Andrzej Wajda, director of Ashes and Diamonds (1958) and Landscape After the Battle (1970); Bernardo Bertolucci, author of Before the Revolution (1964) and The Conformist (1970); and Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, author of The Garden of Joy (1925), and successful television series.
With this background Fernando began a rich production of documentaries ranging from Chronicle of a Victory (1975), co-directed with the late Jesus Diaz, to Omara (1983), and then from there he jumped to the movies with his fiction debut, Clandestine (1987 ), followed by Hello Hemingway (1990), Madagascar (1994), Life is to Whistle (1998) Havana Suite (2003) and Madrigal (2006). Films – all, multiplatinum inside and outside our borders — in which Havana, youth, women, the human condition, inner freedom, truth and love, are a common denominator. Now, following the pioneer of cinematography Georges Méliès, who passed from the magical world of fantasy to history with The Dreyfus Case (1899) he found that cinema is a new way of seeing, interpreting and transforming reality. With the new film, Fernando has demonstrated the potential of film to promote critical thinking about social problems that concern us, in the first place among artists and intellectuals as aesthetes of change, critical of our shortcomings and sources of connection with our traditions and universal knowledge.
Jose Julian Marti Perez, the son of a soldier and a housewife, both of limited education, became a politician, historian, writer, speaker, teacher and journalist. A transformation caused by his innate intelligence, the love of his mother, the righteousness of his father and his relations with the director of the Boys’ School in Havana, Don Rafael Maria de Mendive, who put him in contact with the most valuable of the stream political and cultural ideas within and outside the colony. His great work began on the critical analysis of the errors committed by the Cubans in the Ten Years’ War, an effort to form a modern republic, based on the full dignity of man. Marti established a genetic relationship between party, war, independence and republic, guided by the maxim that only in the hour of victory can seeds sown in the time of war bear fruit, so who cared nurtured these germinated a true independence and a republic conceived in equality of rights for all born in Cuba and a free space for the expression of thought.
Marti, starting from on human dignity as a guiding principle, made every effort to achieve a change in the mindset of military leaders. For this reason the Gomez-Maceo Plan is separated and he wrote the Generalissimo: it seems a shame to have to say these things to a man whom I believe sincere and good, and in whom there are remarkable qualities to become truly great, but there is something that is above all the personal charm that you may inspire, and even every reason of apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute in any measure, through blind love, to an idea that I’m giving my life to bring my country a regime of personal despotism, it would be shameful and unfortunate that the political despotism which is now supported, and that is most severe and difficult to eradicate, because it would be excused by some virtues, would be embellished by the idea embodied in it, and legitimized by the win.
An aspiration that can be condensed as: Men have to live in the peaceful enjoyment, natural and inevitable freedom as they live in the enjoyment of air and light. That Marti, consecrated, is presented by Fernando in the part of the film that deals with the formation of his personality. The Martí who published as his first political article the Crippled Devil; the one who the day after the attack of the Volunteers in Villanueva Theatre published the dramatic poem Abdala; he who raised the defense of freedom of expression in the School of Mendive; he who, together with Fermín Valdés Domínguez, drafted the letter to his classmate Carlos de Castro y Castro: Have you ever dreamed of the glory of the rebels? Do you know how in days of old apostasy was punished? We hope that a disciple of Mr. Rafael María de Mendive would not leave this letter unanswered. In the lawsuit, the answer was firm and manly: I was the only one who wrote it, for which he was sentenced to six years imprisonment with hard labor.
The film shows precisely why many Cubans have come to reject the Martí distorted by the negative effect of the use that has been made of him for political purposes, at a time when we are thrown into a deep material and spiritual crisis which obliges us not only to search for economic efficiency, but to reset our ethical conduct from family relationships to public ones. This is a shared work in which art is called upon to occupy a primary place where dignity, inner worth, what we possess that is essential and irreplaceable that makes us human, must be rescued. Marti: The Eye of the Canary, is this, an emotional hymn that calls us to reflect, to change and to recapture our dignity.