The origin of the famous Cuba Libre (that’s rum and coke with a splash of lime, in case you live under a rock) is a matter of dispute, but despite the nonexistent historical record, most agree that it dates back to the War of Cuban Independence, although you might know this as the Spanish-American War. According to legend, after defeating the Spanish colonial war machine – and just before imposing a new occupying army – an American captain popped open a Coca-Cola in celebration, dumped it into a glass of Cuban rum and toasted, “Por una Cuba libre!”
Ironic considering that what actually happened was just the opposite, but the name stuck and over a century later it has become the equally ironic title for Cuban director Jorge Luis Sánchez’s latest feature. Known for directing the well-received 2006 musical biopic El Benny, Sánchez has seemingly stepped up his game into epic super-production territory with Cuba Libre, which boasts massive sound stages and special effects that recreate a late-19th century Cuba on the verge of irrevocable transformation.
To date, Sánchez has been loath to reveal plot details for his third feature, but we know that the story is told through the eyes of two Afro-Cuban children caught up in the chaos of war. From the trailer, we can appreciate the conflicting interests and confused allegiances of a war in which three parties all vie for their own interests, and frankly, the production value looks higher than any Cuban feature since Fernando Pérez’s 2010 period drama El Ojo del Canario. The cinematography is textured and atmospheric, the performances naturalistic, and the production design looks just as good as any period piece to come out of Hollywood in recent years.
Of course, Sánchez makes a nod to the legend that inspired Cuba Libre‘s title, when an American captain played by Norwegian Jo Adrian Haavind raises his glass to a “Cuba Libre.” In this case, however, Sánchez gives the whole thing a rather menacing tone with burning torches and a slightly crazy look in Haavind’s eyes.
Overall, it’s a promising trailer for any production, but especially one coming out of Cuba’s otherwise lackluster state film studio (ICAIC). Now we’ll just have to wait for distribution details to see for ourselves if the whole thing works.