Carlos Lechuga, one of the young Cuban filmmakers who has received the biggest amount of prizes in recent years, smokes with anxiety as we talk in his living room, just a few days before the premiere of Melaza (Molasses), his first feature film, that competed in the category of Best Debut in the 34th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema.
Lechuga, 29, had already won a Coral Prize by its short length film ¨Los Bañistas¨ and felt very happy to have premiered his work in Cuba, just as the winds of festival began to blow and Cuban public expectantly awaits for new productions, and also because his film will participate in the International Film Festivals of Rotterdam, Miami and Panama.
Molasses, produced by Cuban independent producer 5ta Avenida (5th Avenue), two French producers and a Panamanian one, focuses on the story of Aldo and Monica, a young couple that doesn´t know how to survive due to the closing of the sugar mill where they work, which is the heart of an imaginary community, and it also provides the title to the film.
The screenplay of the film was Lechuga´s graduate thesis in that specialty at the International School of Film and Television of San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV), from which he graduated in 2008. Previously, he completed two years of Film Direction in the Higher Institute of Art (ISA).
But after attending the “Cómo se cuenta un cuento" (How to tell a story) workshop that Gabriel García Márquez gave in EICTV, he decided to become a scriptwriter. Then, he had already written a screenplay named ¨Guanajay¨, which he thought to shoot with Humberto Solas, and was working on it with Juan Carlos Tabio.
So he was more interested in knowing how to tell a story that in directing it: "I thought I must learn that first. So, I spent a year writing before entering, after trying for the second time, to EICTV,¨ says the also director of the short length film Cuca y el pollo.
¨During that time I luckily had some work thanks to Arturo Infante, whom I wrote El edén perdido, winner of the Audience Award at the 1st. Málaga TV Festival and Club Habana, winner of the Unpublished Script category on the Gibara International Low-Budget Film Festival, among others .¨
Speaking of Melaza , he remarks he didn´t try to get away from ancient Cuban and universal cinema, because he likes all kind of films, all their genres and someday he would like to be part of the great family of Cuban cinema.
Could you define Melaza as a "love story "? In that case, what peculiarities did you decide to give that story to become into something more than a "common love story"?
Unfortunately, making a feature film has some unique requirements I want to tell you in a certain way. I think Melaza´s story has been told or at least has been dealt with in other films, but in different ways. I’m not saying they were better or worse. With my film, I wished people would not laugh nor cry, but Cuban public loves to experience those feelings. I wanted viewers saw these two people all the time: Aldo and Monica, the protagonists, as the only thing of love and hope that radiate on screen, as they were in a desolate place, destroyed. The important thing was that the public could sense their love since the beginning, and later they discover who they are.
My other intention was to keep a little distance, we know Cuba is a country in crisis, with many problems, but I didn´t want to make this movie as just as I was, along with the characters, suffering with them. The distance was necessary to reflect on what has happened to all of us. So I decided to move away photographically from characters and make emphasis on rural landscapes that give the image of desolation I wanted to transmit. And, despite being excessively harsh, there are people who say to me "it´s stifling, it does not give you a breath" … and my answer is that I wanted to try a reality; I did not want to make a hard movie, nor to tell it differently. I’ve seen this story in a thousand ways, but I have not seen like that, that is how I really feel it.
What was what you tried to convey since you started in the writing process?
Melaza´s script was not in the most classic style since the beginning, it had many descriptions and it was more into creating an atmosphere. I mean, characters were living day to day, but, as is a movie that has to do with the economic crisis, and how to get ahead, I did not want that it was too miserable either: characters are well dressed, they live in a little house which is well painted, the sugar mill is one of the best preserved. I defend a speech in the story, but there is a moment when I question certain things. I like victims are as guilty as the perpetrators and I think that was what I haven´t seen in other films, the two sides of the situation. It was a more complex process that, if it had been more related to the characters, had strayed too close to melodrama.
It has been suggested, more than one occasion, that Cuban movie, Cuban Film Industry in general, suffers from talking mainly about Havana´s issues and ignores realities or interesting stories that can come from other parts of the country. Besides this, what other elements led you to locate the plot in a country side town outside Havana?
I speak all the time of a sugar mill and its small town, but there is a fifty percent of the drama of these people that can happen to me, living in the center of Vedado. I think maybe I was influenced because I lived three years in San Antonio de los Baños and also because part of my family comes from the country side, but I prefer to think that my approach came from what united us and not from what separated us. I did not want the characters to speak exactly as someone can talk in Uruguay Sugar Mill or any other small villages that make up the town of Melaza .
I also wondered how long we should expect to see a film made completely out of Havana. Maybe a person living in places like Melaza could tell me that is not the real life in a sugar mill, but at least I think I tried people to look away to rural areas too, something the Cuban Film Industry seems to have overlooked.
I know that the fact that I was born in Havana goes against that, however, I do not think someone has to spend fifteen years living in the country side to make a movie, because every person who lives there has a movie to tell. In another respect, I wonder what distribution spectrum have films made outside the capital .
Do you think Melaza deals with the current national debate existing around the education in human, familiar, and ethical values, etc, and the relative loss of these ones in Cuban society today?
The loss of values is something very common today in the world, not only in Cuba, and I didn´t want my film to be a story of degradation of marginal characters. They are two college students who love each other, had a house, a workplace and were not in discrepancy with the law. Supposedly, they had it all, but they were living in a place where that was not enough, and were compelled to become the most wanted, as Bonnie and Clyde , but without actually killing anyone, or steal big things. That is, to have a full life, they must find some solutions not entirely positive.
My main intention was to say that in this place, to survive, to be an exemplary family they had to lie and do certain prosecutable things because the sugar mill, what gave them a spiritual and material life, had been stopped. I decided them to fight against circumstances without falling into the joke, without too much suffering. Sure, this way I deal with the evolution of both characters as they struggle for survival.
Could you talk on the casting process?
There are directors who say that a good casting is the sixty percent of your movie and I wanted to make a casting of two, that is, both of them have to be good actors, and it had also to be certain chemical and harmony between them. Luckily those selected are very good actors and during shooting the dimensions were very few. We had very good communication.
Moreover, as there are some actors who are from the town, I wanted them all to get imbricated each other, that a person who does not know them could think they live there, with the slight difference they are a very nice couple who unquestionably will attract people to the movie. At least, I knew what I did not want, based on the need of a strong but very contained performance, to express its internal state through the eyes.
And the rest of the family, the girl Carolina Marquez and grandmother, an actress named Ana Gloria Goudel from Santiago de Cuba, integrated very well to the cast. In the case of Goudel, I did not need to test her with just seeing her eyes, as soon as I saw her eyes; I knew she was capable to perform the character. Yuliet Cruz suggested me the girl and she seemed very intelligent. In the movie t he man is not the father of the girl and I liked the idea of they not being the perfect family: the grandmother is in a wheelchair, the girl is chubby, the man maintains the house … and the woman had her daughter with a man who had abandoned her and now she was with one that he loved but she fears the story to repeat. Then, the breadwinner of the family has to go to the streets to maintain it, because his teacher’s salary is not enough.
What other specialty seemed essential to you for the realization of your film?
I would like to highlight photography, made by Ernesto Calzado, who has been a camera assistant for many years, and this is his first experience as director of photography.
Any particular anecdote during shooting?
I´d rather like to thank all the people of the town and the state organizations that greatly supported the making of the film. The inhabitants of the communities (Guines, Santa Maria del Rosario, Caimito) where we filmed, they came and told their stories and even made a choreography, because at one point they had to dance, but unfortunately did not stayed in the film , but it will be in the making off or in the extras of the DVD. I think it was a great experience for everyone. In fact, the film served as entertainment, gave life to those places. There were five weeks of filming where I realized that reality always exceeds fiction … and of course, Melaza has a little bit of all these peoples.
What is your next project?
I wrote the script of one of the stories that is included in Cremata´s last film, En fin, el mal, which will be premiered sometime and I’m working on other projects that I can yet anticipate. I also love to direct other people´s script. But now it’s time to promote Melaza to reach all Cuban audiences.