Of Seawalls And Scaffolding

The following section offers a contrasting view of how youth is being formulated in contemporary Cuba. Whereas in Argentina there has been an explosion of filmmaking activity by younger directors in recent years, in Cuba these types of productions are both less numerous and less "visible." This "absence" is the result of a number of circumstances, among them, the economic difficulties starting in the 1990s that have sharply curtailed ICAIC productions and, perhaps even more important, the production bottleneck at ICAIC. In the process, a whole generation of filmmakers who are slightly younger than or contemporaries of "consecrated directors'' like Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928-1996) and Humberto Solás (b. 1941), including Juan Carlos Tabío (b. 1943) and Fernando Pérez (b. 1944), had extended "apprenticeships'' and began to make their first feature films while in their forties. Tabío (who collaborated with Alea on his last two films, Fresa y chocolate [1993] and Guantanamera [1995]) and Pérez have since inherited the mantle of Alea and Solás to become Cuba's most prolific and, in the case of Pérez, celebrated filmmakers. Curiously enough, many of the films of both of these directors have demonstrated a particular preoccupation with young adults: in the case of Tabío, Se permuta (1984), Plaff (1988), Fresa y chocolate (1993), and Lista de espera (2000); in the case of Pérez, Clandestinos (1987), Hello Hemingway (1991), and Madagascar (1994).

The structural bottleneck at ICAIC has had an even greater impact on the subsequent generation of filmmakers, which includes Jorge Luis Sánchez (b. 1960), Enrique Alvarez (b. 1961), Juan Carlos Cremata (b. 1961), Arturo Sotto (b. 1967), and Humberto Padrón (b. 1967). Although their work has found institutional support through the state-supported Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión in San Antonio de los Baños and alternative artistic organizations like the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, these "babies-of-the-revolution'' have had a hard time breaking into feature filmmaking. Despite the many provocative shorts that emerged around 1990, like Enrique Alvarez' Sed (1989), Juan Carlos Cremata's Oscuros rinocerantes enjaulados (1990), and Jorge Luis Sánchez' Un pedazo de mí (1989), El fanguito (1990), and Dónde está Casals (1990), it would be at least 5 to 10 years before these no-longer-quite-so-young filmmakers would be given the opportunity to direct feature films.

The personal production histories of these 30- and now 40-something directors have led them in a variety of directions over the last 10 years; their works are not stylistically similar and they do not share a common vision of society. Nonetheless, they do offer a perspective on youth that is different from that of older directors, and they engage in interesting ways with contemporary debates over the "crisis" of Cuban youth. According to diverse social scientists from the island, today's young adults are quite distinct from earlier generations of youth, valorizing as they do access to dollars over professional fulfillment, and rock stars over national heroes (Oneida Pérez et al., 264-265). As discussed by María Isabel Domínguez García, demographic shifts and the slow-growing job market have created a series of problems for the incorporation of young adults into society (226227). Even though young adults (who by the late 1980s represented one third of the total population) are better educated than ever before, they tend to be unqualified (or overqualified) for the types of jobs that are available— for example, those in the service sector oriented toward attracting foreign currency (tourism) and those in agriculture and fishing (230-231). The reorientation of the Cuban higher educational system toward professional and technical specialization has not occurred quickly enough to address this problem (233-235). At the same time, the criteria for social mobility have been changing rapidly; increasingly, those who have access to dollars (regardless of their educational background and job category) are viewed as more privileged (240-241). Given these material conditions, the ideology of collective solidarity has been less than persuasive for young adults, as well as others, who are drawn to individualistic pursuits and espouse materialist values (Gómez, 120; Oneida Pérez et al., 258, 262, 264-265; Romero et al.,

Frequently tracing this generational shift to the difficulties of the Special Period, these studies define the "problem" of contemporary Cuban youth in economic terms. Nonetheless, they also unfailingly see the issue in moral and emotional terms as a crisis in values and dissident affective states (Romero et al., 335-336, 338-339; Gómez, 123,140-141; Oneida Pérez et al., 256). Despite their often sympathetic reading of the situation of young adults, many of the recent studies by social scientists reassert an older model of (sacrificial) youth and moral rectitude epitomized by the figure of Ché Guevara (Gómez, 140-141; Romero et al., 340-341). At the end of her article, Domínguez García draws a distinction between three "types" of youth: those who are strongly nationalistic and tie their personal aspirations to those of society (like Ché); those in an "intermediary" sector, who exhibit some social commitment, but who are pulled toward individualistic pursuits and react passively to the current situation; and, finally, those in an "opportunistic sec tor,'' characterized by deteriorating moral values and purposeful consumerism (242). Domínguez García's typology has been quite influential, drawing support from other scholars like Romero et al. (345, 347) and reverberating in films like Plaff and Lista de espera with protagonists who are or become emblematic of the first category. Yet, this type of ''diagnosis of social ills'' does not acknowledge either the failure of Ché's preferential model of moral over economic incentives (discarded by the Cuban state itself as a principle of economic policy by the late 1960s) or the possibility of a different type of politics that eschews systematic rupture in favor of the type of social mobilization imagined in Juan Carlos Cremata's Nada.

Like Arturo Sotto's Amor vertical, Nada reworks the broad gestures characteristic of Cuban comedies to depict alienated young adults in more subtle terms. The film follows the misadventures of Carla Pérez, a petty bureaucrat working in a neighborhood post office who spends her days stamping letter after letter with an official government seal. When a spilled cup of coffee leads her to open one of the letters in order to dry it off, Carla becomes fixated on the idea of rewriting the often tersely phrased missives that cross her desk to call forth all their affective potential and, in so doing, help people communicate with each other more effectively.

In this simple plot, the film situates young people like Carla as the means by which the fragmented nation can heal through the search for and expression of''lost'' or repressed emotion. Cremata's work juxtaposes Carla's editorial interventions, which infuse the epistolary form with lyrical expressions of love and suffering, with the packaged emotionalism and stifling bureaucratic speech of the ''older'' generation. At home, Carla becomes drawn to the show of Professor Cruzado, a TV psychologist who hands out trite advice and tells his audience to ''paste on a smile'' and move forward, beyond their heartache. At work, she faces the empty rhetorical flourishes of the omnipresent bureaucratic signage (''Don't monkey around, work''/''No mariposees, produce'').14

In the face of such exhortations as well as the excessive emotional displays of absurd telenovelas,15 Carla's acts of rewriting are figured as a type of guerrilla-like, bottom-up insurgency. The film often crosscuts between scenes of Carla rewriting the letters in her apartment with those depicting the people who will receive them. In one such sequence, a close-up of Carla's hand tracing letters on a blank page dissolves into a medium long shot of an older man walking down a sidewalk staircase. Subsequent shots depict the man in his daily routine—playing dominoes with friends in the park, answering his door to receive his daughter's letter from the postman, picking up a bottle of milk and walking along the malecón—as Carla's breathy voice-

over reads the words of heartfelt longing that she has written to replace the daughter's mundane complaints about her life in southern Spain:

Your life and mine only exist in memories. They only meet in memories, but [then there's] daily life, the boredom, the pleasure, the time that flies by without giving us time for our memories, and even if it's true that one doesn't go looking for those memories, they pop up again. ... It hurts not to see you, Dad. I wonder what are you like now, who you are without me there. Memory is an animal that. . . eats, sleeps, and wakes up and when it does, without wanting to, it wounds our soul and all that we are.

In the middle of this montage, as the man reads the letter, an extreme close-up highlights a single teardrop rolling down the sheet of paper. In sequences such as this one, Nada depicts Carla's reformulations as liberating acts releasing authentic emotions pent up by mundane routines and calci-fled familial bitterness.

Cremata's Nada articulates a clear, age-based critique of an older generation that has failed to address the affective costs of revolutionary struggle— particularly, though not exclusively, the pain of separation through immigration and exile. Like the older man in the scene mentioned above, Carla, too, feels the loss of family members—in her case, her parents, two opera singers who left Cuba for the United States who send her periodic postcards from Miami featuring overweight women on the beach, sirens of capitalism and symbols of complacent consumer culture. The fllm's opening sequence captures Carla in an overhead shot as she talks in voice-over to her absent parents, saying, ''You didn't do anything to me. Nothing at all'' [No me hiciste nada. Nada]—a claim that the film itself (whose very title echoes her words) questions.

Nada is in many ways an effort to respond to nothingness and disavowal in its attempt to revivify ''true'' or ''authentic'' emotion. Yet, in contrast to traditional articulations that characterize authenticity in terms of depth, Cremata's film encounters what it is looking for in the surface of things. As mentioned in the opening of this article, Nada shares Picado fine's interest in surface play, albeit in a very different way. Whereas the Argentine film favors frontal shots and disjunctive editing, the Cuban film employs overhead shots and scratches the surface of the film stock. Among other effects, these devices tend to flatten the screen and play with the realism of the pro-filmic space.

Together with the film's black-and-white photography, they call atten tion to the tangibility of emotional states and the textures of reality. When the older man stands on the malecón at the end of the sequence mentioned above and the camera cranes up, in slow motion, to an overhead shot, the film encourages the spectator to perceive the textures of that moment. The chipped surface of the seawall and the pockmarked sidewalk stand in for the grating emotional wear of familial separation. Yet, as the camera cranes down again, on the other side, to frame the man looking out over the wall toward the oncoming waves and the distant horizon, the shot also captures the underlying love and longing for reconnection, signaled by the man's gaze in the direction of Spain, that the rewritten letter has brought to the surface. Throughout the extended crane shot, we hear the continuation of Carla's voice-over:

On some days your face appears more sweet; on others, more bitter, but it is always there, essential, silent, eternal, urgent. There are times when I'm dying to talk with you, to hear your voice. . . . There are days when you are God, Dad, and that bridges the distance between us . . .

Rather than attesting to the waning of affect, Nada's preoccupation with the surface of things gestures toward the way in which emotion weighs on everyday life.

The film's call for ''affective mobilizations'' to draw together the Cuban people—figured here not as a function of the nation-state, but rather as an imagined, paraterritorial, affective affiliation—appears to offer one solution to the dilemma of contemporary Cuban cinema as articulated by Cuban critic Juan Antonio García Borrero. In his recent book La edad de herejía, García Borrero characterizes 1990s cinema as stylistically innovative, but plagued by individualistic navel-gazing (176). Attributing such solipsism to a number of factors, including the crisis of the Socialist bloc, the fall of utopias, and, on a more immediate level, the lack of vigorous debate among the island's filmmakers, García Borrero calls on the younger filmmakers to recapture a sense of collectivity and to propose new utopias (173, 177-178). And, this is precisely what Nada does in the end when Carla renounces the lottery slot that would allow her to leave Cuba for the United States. In so doing, she acknowledges what her mail-carrier boyfriend César has written to her in a letter prior to her departure: ''People leave without ever truly getting anywhere. ... If everybody leaves, nothing changes . . . nothing at all.'' Her decision reconfirms the well-established revolutionary exhortation to find personal fulfillment through commitment to the larger social good and, at the same time, reasserts the joyfulness of such an endeavor. In the final se quence, a yellow butterfly scratched onto the surface of the film (a recurrent motif) flitters around the head of Clara and César as they sit on a hill overlooking the ocean and playfully discuss what it means to be Cuban. Even as Carla's decision to stay signals her recommitment to the collective body, the butterfly mocks the bureaucratic exhortation to work and not screw around (''No mariposees, produce''). And her pleasured sighs as César makes love to her remind us that to be Cuban is to laugh, have fun, and take it all in stride. Unfortunately, in this final gesture, Nada falls back into line with the recuperative moves of traditional Cuban comedies and fails to address seriously the shortcomings of the revolution, forestalling, rather than challenging, the siren call of global consumer culture.

It is perhaps significant that one of the most radical depictions of contemporary Cuban youth appeared 11 years earlier in Jorge Luis Sánchez' film Un pedazo de mí. The film offers a refreshing perspective on young adults by examining the subjectivity of that ''third'' sector critiqued by Domínguez García and written out of most mainstream films. This 15-minute short presents interviews with a number of so-called frikis [freaks], young men marginalized by society who love heavy metal and other types of hard-driving English-language rock music. In key moments, as the sound track plays Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and other rock legends, the film uses black-and-white footage and a revolving handheld camera on wildly dancing bodies to capture the liberating charge of the music. As counterpoint, the sparse mise-en-scène marks the young men's sense of alienation and marginalization as they walk through half-finished apartment buildings or construction scaffolding on the streets of the city. Attesting to the economic hardships experienced by these young men (prior to the onslaught of the Special Period), the film's hollowed-out urban landscape speaks, in quite poetic ways, about their feelings of emotional isolation and abandonment and about the absence of affective ties to their own families or to the larger society. In another particularly lyrical sequence, a slow tracking shot leads us down a hallway and into a room with a rocking chair and crib void of human presences.

Youth here—unlike in other Cuban films—holds a metonymic rather than an allegorical charge. In other words, Un pedazo de mí does not offer us a totalizing trope of Cuban society wherein young adults function merely or primarily as a symbol of future possibilities and potentialities. Nor does it suggest that the experiences of this marginal(ized) sector of young adults is somehow representative of all Cuban youth. Rather, the documentary situates the young men as an important, if ignored, part of a larger whole. The film's vacant cityscape and unoccupied buildings recall the symbolism of Sara Gómez' now classic De cierta manera (1974), yet in the context of 40

years of revolution makes much less sweeping proposals for change. In registering the young men's feelings of emptiness and thwarted yearnings, the mise-en-scène serves as a simple reminder to take care of one's house and the individuals who live in it.

This short does not "recuperate" the young men by showing how they have come to recommit themselves to the revolution. Although it documents their love of their homeland in their testimony ("I'd never leave," insists one of the young men), the film does not offer a tale of redemption through their eventual incorporation into the social body. Instead, Un pedazo de mi labors to deepen the spectator's understanding of the young protagonists' painful disconnect from society and to validate their truncated desires for familial affection. The film does not subsume personal desire under one's commitment to the social good, nor does it dismiss the affective resonance that rock music holds for young adults as an expression of superficial consumer desire or antirevolutionary activity (a perspective held over from the radical nationalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when all rock music was considered inherently neocolonialist). In its dogged attention to subjectivities, it rallies against the dominant articulation of youth as eternal militant.

I want to conclude by taking a brief look at similar debates about contemporary U.S. youth cultures that will help clarify the specificity of Latin American youth formations. In his article '''. . . And Tomorrow Is Just Another Crazy Scam','' Ryan Moore examines the "progressively nihilistic, exhausted, and ironically distanced character of much of [U.S.] youth culture and link[s] that 'structure of feeling' with the downward mobility of the middle class and the cultural condition we have come to know as 'postmodernity''' (253). According to Moore, the ''fall'' of the white middle class has unsettled the narratives of progress and upward mobility that have dominated U.S. culture since World War II and deeply influenced the socialization of white, suburban youth (259-261). This discursive break has been accompanied by a ''fundamental rupture between affect and ideology'' that has made the investment of affective energies in larger ideals ''arbitrary at best'' (254-255). The recent focus on the apathy or ''aggressive indifference'' of young adults is also the result of the contemporary influence of prosperous Baby Boomers who were in their twenties in the 1960s, as suggested by Lawrence Grossberg. Now in their sixties, the Boomers wish to retain the characterization of youth that emerged in the 1960s as the template through which to see all subsequent generations of youth (35, 40, 43; also cited in Moore, 265). The lack of faith in political commitments and social causes exhibited by con temporary 20-somethings conflicts with the narratives of progress and social mobility that were embraced by the 1960s counterculture as much as by the mainstream "conservative" culture it rebelled against (Moore, 259-260).

This quick overview of the U.S. case provides several interesting contrasts to the situation in Latin America, where the legacy of earlier generations of youth, and the revolutionary 1960s, is quite distinct. While there are clear differences between Argentina and Cuba, the Latin American revolutionary movements, which to a great degree defined youth at that time, had greater structural impact on their respective societies than did the U.S. counterculture. If only in the case of Cuba did the insurgency lead to a full-scale revolution, armed guerilla movements in Argentina and elsewhere successfully destabilized political institutions and, more indirectly, economic structures. Or at least this was the dominant perception that right-wing groups appropriated to justify the numerous military coups that took place in Brazil (1964-1984), Chile (1973-1989), Argentina (1976-1983), and elsewhere. Perhaps today's critiques of contemporary Latin American youth can be traced to the shared revolutionary legacies or, more to the point, to the worries of a revolutionary generation who are now in their fifties and sixties and are looking back on the failures or limitations of their own youthful projects. Yet, given this often-bloody historical context, it is much more problematic for the Latin American contemporaries of the U.S. Baby Boomers to lay claim to a heroic past of transformative "resistance."

As demonstrated in the previous pages, recent Latin American films about young adults (often made by young or "youngish" adults) are deeply informed by this earlier generation of youth and specific historical legacies. The Cuban films respond to the notion of youth as eternal militant symbolized by the figure of Ché Guevara and the moralistic orientation spawned in the early days of the revolution that subtends contemporary discussions of society. In a markedly different context, the Argentine films engage historical legacies and contemporary political debates tangentially, through gestures and metaphors. Unlike recent U.S. films, these Argentine films and others from Mexico and Brazil do not display a simple nostalgia, but rather a "nostalgia for nostalgia."16 Taken together, these representations of youth are quite different from the ones in the U.S., which are marked, according to Moore, by "the inability to locate oneself or even one's class in a historical, narrative fashion'' (261). Such differences directly bear on the way in which the above mentioned Latin American films play with questions of depth and affect. As Moore (via Frederic Jameson) notes, the sense of "temporal fragmentation" evident in U.S. youth culture ''is directly related to the crisis of affect in post-modernity insofar as history and narrativity are precisely the type of 'depth models' whose apparent evaporation has paved the way for the contemporary liberation of feeling'' (261). Whether through the ''presence of depth'' (La ciénaga and Un pedazo de mí) or ''superficial play'' (Picado fino and Nada), these Latin American films of disaffected young adults register the weight of history even as they contest, to greater and lesser degrees, the legacies of earlier formations of youth.

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