Young Cuban filmmakers of the early 21st century sometimes carry a too heavy load on their shoulders: they are expected to rekindle the prestige Cuban cinema had for almost 20 years, even if the social, cultural and political conditions are quite diverse from those of 1968, the year when "Memories of Underdevelopment" was created, or 1988, when "Demasiado miedo a la vida o Plaff" was released. The economic platform of the film industry has been drastically reduced, as to guarantee a constant dynamics of test and trial, from which two or three good films could surge every year. In a scenario where filmmakers opt for the zombie franchise, or for an "aspirational" view of La Habana out of a commercial spot, that is sadder than the real deteriorated urban landscape, director Carlos Quintela chose minimalism and a contemplative attitude, and abstained from heavy dramatics, for his first feature, "La piscina". In my opinion, Quintela, among his peers, delivered the most sincere, coherent, well-thought and compact film. Maybe the loud and outspoken way the Cubans talk and act seems too foreign to the parsimonious aesthetics Quintela adheres too, a strategy so much in vogue in the four corners of the world, from Théo Court to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, passing by Aki Kaurismäki and back to Paz Encina. This deliberately slow moving, living and doing seems more akin to Chilean, Thai, Finnish or Paraguayan referents, than to this irreverent corner of the Caribbean: or maybe not so, as it is suggested, in an adjusted and recycled way, in the lunch scene, in which words become unnecessary and the rite becomes a simple duel of mouths, to see who can eat faster. However, after this consideration, I must add that my experience watching "La piscina" was very pleasant. Although I had heard reserved commentaries and I knew that the Cuban film festival had refused to accept it in its competitive section, I found it a title that merited one or two prizes, as first work, or for its screenplay (by Abel Arcos) and cinematography (by Raúl Rodríguez), but more than anything for its direction. Quintela opted (consciously or not) for a proposal of "mise-en-caméra" that remits us to the scope of the human eye, with its two options: from the capacity to see the "absolute density of things", the whole panorama; to focus on details, on our "objects of desire", in our voyeuristic close-ups. As he emulates the human gaze, Quintela accustoms us to long, wide shots, and then he forces us to see the faces. There are no medium shots in this film, with more than one character in the frame. As human eyes, we see the "long shot" and then our gaze is directed to focus on a specific face, just as we do in real life, when we see two or three persons in the same field of vision, but we can only watch each of them by turn. This tactic is used to tell a very simple story: during holidays, in a swimming pool where almost nobody goes, four adolescents (three young men and one young woman, each with a hard physical condition) take swimming lessons with a trainer who maybe once was a promising athlete (Raúl Capote, the only professional actor in a leading role). In a partially clouded summer day, very small secrets are revealed and little dramas emerge The very low profile conflicts favor silence, laconism, and trivial actions that calmly unfold, but which surprisingly have an inner rhythm of almost imperceptible agility. With the exception of the moment when the girl attacks one of the boys, everything takes place with histrionics in pause: to this effect the fact that Quintela works with four young natural actors is a big plus. In this kind of film, in which spectators infer more by observation than through declarations or discourses, the anthropological details matter more, and for this reason "La piscina" grows in those brief moments when the Cuban cultural reference becomes evident. With this work Carlos Quintela has diversified the offer of Cuban cinema, placing it in a different dimension in relation to everything that was done before, and if it were only for this, "La piscina" merits a well deserved applause.
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