Over the past few years, the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as a crucial window onto the world for Cuba’s brewing independent cinema movement. This year, director Carlos Lechuga’s second feature Santa y Andrés is holding it down for la Perla del Caribe as part of the festival’s Contemporary World Cinema program.
Following up on his debut feature, Melaza, which had its North American premiere at 2012’s Miami International Film Festival, Santa y Andrés continues with Lechuga’s nuanced exploration of Cuban social disfunction. This time around the filmmaker takes on an archetypal figure of decades past that will be immediately familiar to any Cuban: the gay, dissident artist/intellectual.
Indeed, some of the greatest exponents of Cuban culture since the 1960s – see: Reinaldo Arenas, Nicolás Guillén Landrián – were purged from the country for their suspect ideological views, in many cases tied to their homosexuality. Things have changed a bit since then, but Lechuga’s latest takes us back to 1983 where a fictional gay, dissident writer named Andrés is put under watch by Santa – a well-meaning communist woman from the countryside.
With the pretext of keeping Andrés far away from the international press at an upcoming political rally, Santa happily carries out her patriotic mission until a growing personal rapport with Andrés leads her to question her prejudices and the false divisions of Cuba’s ideological Manichaeism.
The majority of the film plays out in and around Andrés’ dilapidated country shack, and visually Lechuga opts for the same simple, naturalistic style that characterized Melaza. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Cuban sierra, Santa y Andrés places its artistic weight squarely on the actors and the relationships developed between their characters. Judging from the trailer, stars Lola Amores and Eduardo Martinez seem to have taken on the challenge with gusto.