Breakfast with Atardecer en el Tropico [Sunset in the Tropics]
To what extent were you interested in questioning the unity of the family? Do you have other projects using this theme?
The family is a subject that interests me greatly. Especially the inner workings of a family. For a long time in Cuba the family was very united, very shut. Today, with immigration, the family is unraveling little by little and it is coming apart. The nucleus is weakening and expanding. I feel there’s a big gap between my generation (people born in the middle of the 80s) and younger generations and my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Inside the same house different ways of thinking, different outlooks on life and Cuban society live together. You might think that this is something common to other eras, other societies. But in Cuba, there are some specific nuances. Moreover, the family forms a place of power founded on a strict hierarchy. And I’m interested in questioning these hierarchies. My previous short film, Un Instante, also dealt with the family and its rules. The revulsion that social conventions can cause, the absence of freedom for individuals, in this case, a woman, a mother who had to maintain order in the family. For these two shorts, I chose as a setting the buildings from working class neighborhoods. These are places with enormous buildings built by the Revolution for workers’ families. Sometimes it was even families that helped build them. Hundreds of families live in these buildings. Today, this is a place where nobody wants to live because it is overpopulated. There’s no privacy. For me, these buildings represent the failure of the family model.
Why did you want to film a father-daughter relationship, with no brothers or sisters and without the mother?
It’s a very personal story. I like to say that this short film is autofiction. It’s my father’s story and mine. Two different generations united by a house, a song, a country, our love. In this film I say things to my father that I could never say to him with words face to face. Because we wouldn’t understand each other. I tell him that we are a failed project. That’s why there aren’t any other family members. But even with our contradictions, our freedom to choose, there is love and we are a family. Another kind of family, as worthy as – what some people in Cuba call – a real family, a nuclear family composed of the mother, the father and the children. In my previous short film, I spoke about a mother, my mother. The concept of autofiction interests me a lot. There, it was a woman alone. A young mother who feels she’s a prisoner of the system that dictates what a conventional family is. Also, I’m interested in using the figure of a father and a daughter to decode power relations. The father returns home at a time where he seems to have lost everything. Now it’s the daughter who has the best place in this space including the best financial position. I was interested in exploring this change in status in the family.
How did you choose the song for the film?
It’s with music, and in this case a song, that the characters express themselves the best. At times I hesitated to remove all the dialogues and let the song be their only means of communication. But I think in a certain way that’s what happens. Very often we have trouble communicating directly. To avoid shattering the fragile balance of interests that we have managed to keep as a family, as a social entity, and with ourselves. The characters say very sincere things – especially to themselves – in this very sensitive space. The father, I feel, doesn’t have the words to express what he’s going through, his return to a place that has changed, changes for which he wasn’t prepared. But he finds in the melody, in a recollection, perhaps shared and inherited, deep inside his memory, something to start a new life cycle. But at the same time, there’s a bit of irony. Because life wears a sarcastic smile. That’s what I like in kitsch. Besides the fact that it’s the type of expression that characterizes the family unit. Annia Linares was a very popular singer in Cuba in the 80s. My parents gave me a taste for this music. Also, while preparing the photography or thinking about directing my shorts, I like to work on minimalism. Therefore, I wanted to work with this colorful, outdated, sentimental song. So that the characters express what they feel to such an extent that it increases reality.
How did you work on the scenes of solitude? Why did you want to show the characters separately?
That interests me a lot. That enabled me to explore how we look at others and how we are perceived. It’s an idea that I want to continue to develop. In this case, I wanted to show each person’s point of view. The unknown space of these two characters who are so close. That enabled me to better center the story on sensory aspects. The characters reveal themselves little by little: how they act when they are alone, when they play a role, for example the role of the father or when they are devastated. The spectator must construct the characters, construct them using these fragments.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I like the short film format very much. It was ideal for exploring certain ideas that I mentioned earlier. Working in a reduced timeframe allows me to present just certain fragments of the characters, the situation in which they evolve. Many things remain outside or underneath, like an iceberg and the spectator is free to give the character or the moment a shape, a sense, a background. For example, when you travel in a car, a train, you can see people, places, fragments of life that strike us, but the train continues its way without stopping for us and for a short lapse of time, we fabricate this person, this situation. We invent this story that’s hidden and lost to us. That enables me to explore a more sensory communication. For me, the short film format has been, up until now, a laboratory of very personal experiments.
Atardecer en el Tropico [Sunset in the Tropics] was shown in the International Competition.