May 2015: a multigenerational Cuban family is in the living room right in front of the TV, quarreling in an indistinct yet heated argument. An elderly woman interrupts at the highest point and points to the TV screen, where the news about the introduction of a new US – Cuba ferry line is being announced. This is a symbol of a new direction in the political course of the state, and at this very moment the film is setting its own direction as well, following in detail the absurd existence of the Cuban capital. From this second on, the city begins to live in the hectic anticipation of the ferry arrival, a historical moment of allowing “the capitalism” in, formerly depicted as the ultimate evil by the official state ideology during the entire lifespan of most of the film's characters.
The title speaks for itself – a collection of sketch stories connected through time and space portrays the nuances of Havana in BEFORE THE FERRY ARRIVES. There are three directors in charge of the camera, each contributing in a unique way, as the Spanish filmmaker Juan Caunedo Domínguez worked on the film concept together with his Cuban colleagues – animator Vladimir García Herrera and visual arts specialist Raúl Escobar Delgado. In their interviews, the team mentions they envisioned a film of many voices and many faces, never shying away from eclecticism but rather trying to embrace it at its fullest.
The film is under no illusion that life could ever run smoothly for Habaneros. The tour into their daily routine starts with a walk in the long concrete corridor of an imposing monument construction, scenting of communist heritage. Obstacles come up right away: the elevator doesn't work, the taxi car won't start, the driver tricks out more money than he should, but one should always stay calm. And in any case, are there really other ways to earn money in this city rather than getting involved with some monkey business? It is a reality that everyone seems to quickly get used to – swindle foreigners, sell drugs or come up with an original idea, like that bunch of young entrepreneurs. Theirs is the perfect business plan for the developing Cuban society: fooling a neighbourhood into paying for garbage disposition. “But they do like the garbage!”, skeptically remarks one of the aspiring stakeholders. “Some years ago you couldn't imagine any iPhones here, but here they are, and everyone is getting used to them.” Such answers sound reasonable and perfectly illustrate the film's attempts to paint the most popular attitude towards a bumpy period of transition, when iPhones appear before proper neighbourhood conveniences.
The time is ripe for a change, and in fact it has been for a while: Raul Castro took over the formal rule of the country in 2008, and since then Cuba's domestic policy has started the process of adapting the country to contemporary international reality at the sunset of Fidel's era. This did not result in freedom of speech for the Cubans, but at least it gave the people an opportunity to legally connect to the Internet and to start their own businesses. BEFORE THE FERRY ARRIVES keeps the record of this new emerging Cuba, where contemporaneity grows on soil that has been preserved in aspic for many decades. And yet the country doesn't have too much power yet. Moreover, being too far away in the future is of no help – an American tourist travelling a good hundred years back in time will not have any special privilege once he steps out to the city.
There aren't many opportunities in Cuban public space to talk about changes in a critical way. The film is rooted in the country's popular culture, which is constantly evoked through the over-presence of reggaeton music or by exploiting stereotypical anecdotal characters. It does not dig deep into the problems of society in any discernible way, despite the many hints – poverty, corruption, colonial heritage. The lack of instruments for discussion leads to quite an honest expression: a straightforward attempt to fix the absurd looks so unrealistic that it goes away from reality and into a superhero-cartoon sequence, ending up excluded from the “normal”.
BEFORE THE FERRY ARRIVES is packed with witty puns, the objects of its mocking all easily recognizable as familiar by audiences from post-communist countries. The many subplots framed by comical details create a somewhat chaotic experience, which contributes to another important feeling lingering around the film – the anxiety about an undefined future. Still, it is clear that even though the chaos might not be avoidable, humor remains the handiest tool in dealing with what the country is yet to discover.
FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Lemana Filandra is a writer and editor at "Klifhenger" (www.klifhenger.com), a site dedicated to movie analyses in Bosnian and English. She has been working as a freelance writer, a researcher, and a translator for the last three years. Currently, She is working on a PhD thesis in philosophy, focused on intersectional feminism and political implications of the concept of body. In the past she had different professional engagements at Sarajevo Film Festival, one of the most prominent European festivals. She also worked as a producer of a music video, a script supervisor and an assistant to a movie director.
Levan Tskhovrebadze is a student of film studies in Ilia State University, Georgia. He has written and made other kind of journalistic content for Georgian outlets like Indigo, Cinemania.ge or Demo.ge. Recently he started working for Ilia State University online publication Cinexpress.iliauni.edu.ge where he writes reviews, articles and also translates some of the important articles or interviews about cinema into Georgian. He has covered few festivals as a film critic. He was doing video blogs for Berlin International Film Festival 2019th edition and has made some content at CinéDOC-Tbilisi and Batumi International Art-House Film Festival. Cinexpress is also the Ilia State University’s Film Club where he made public reports before screenings.
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a film critic and journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently working for Vertigo.com.ua, one of the largest Ukrainian websites devoted to the film industry and entertainment in general. She is also the host of two podcasts about movies and TV.
Denisa Jašová is a PhD student of Audiovisual Studies at Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a Film Studies and Archival Science graduate, she specializes on archival research in film and TV history, especially on Czechoslovak amateur film and TV non-fiction programmes from 70s and 80s. She also works as a researcher for TV documentaries, as a librarian in the Central European House of Photography and as a talk show host in student radio talk show called Cinefil. She frequently writes for magazine Film.sk, IFF Cinematik Piešťany and her first paper about the history of Slovak amateur film will be released in October 2019 in Kino-Ikon magazine. She simply loves film archives.
Bogdan Balla is a Romanian experimental film director and freelance film critic based in Bucharest. He studies film directing at the National University of Theatre and Film and writes for FILM MENU. Besides directing and producing his own films, he also works as an independent freelance film critic. He reads bell hooks and is passionate about queer cinema. He has a preference for working with archival footage for his films.
Svetlana Semenchuk is an author of such publications on cinema as “Seanse”, “The Art of Cinema”, “Cinema TV” and other. The author-composer of the books “S. M. Eisenstein: pro et contra: Sergey Eisenstein in national reflection: anthology” and “E. F. Bauer: pro et contra. Eugene Frantsevich Bauer in assessments of contemporaries, colleagues, researchers, film critics. Anthology”. Teacher of the St. Petersburg New Cinema School, and at the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Amber Wilkinson is a journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the co-founder and editorial director of UK-based website Eye For Film. Her byline has appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Filmmaker Magazine among others. She also contributes as a freelance film critic on BBC Radio Scotland. She has run several FIPRESCI young critics' workshops and mentored student critics at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering film festivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for Berlinale Talents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.