What do you get when you cross Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s classic Cuban film Memorias de subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) with the cover photo for Patti Smith’s 1975 album Horses? Chances are it would look a lot like Cuban writer-director Fabián Suárez’s debut feature Caballos (Horses). Representing yet another idiosyncratic and highly personal addition to the ever-expanding filmography of Cuban independent cinema, Caballos recently hit the festival circuit after a long and piecemeal process of independent production that included an ambitious – but ultimately failed – crowdfunding initiative early last year.
Inspired by the biography of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe – who shot the iconic cover photo for Patti Smith’s 1975 album – Caballos was adapted from a successful play written by Suárez back in 2007. The fragmented narrative follows a young photographer named Robi who finds himself caught between an older male lover who is dying of AIDS, and an enchanting female singer he meets at a bar only days before she leaves to Paris. While the love triangle parallels Mapplethorpe’s own complex relationship with Patti Smith, Suárez suppressed any direct references to the photographer’s life, delving instead into the complex biographies of his own fictional characters.
The result is a stylish and unconventional black-and-white feature, visually inspired by Mapplethorpe’s photos as well as Suárez’s primary cinematic influence, Memorias de subdesarrollo. From the trailer we can appreciate Cuban jazz virtuoso Roberto Fonseca’s moody and unsettling original score as we are treated to a poetic and metaphoric reflection on the nature of horses. What exactly the connection is will be up to you to decide, but the stylized black-and-white photography by Javier Labrador Deulofeu only contributes to the ambiguous and poetic mood of this haunting and highly original film.
Caballos premiered this August as part of the official competition at the World Cinema Amsterdam Film Festival and will undoubtedly be traveling far and wide as the year winds down.