The great Cuban filmmaker Fernando Pérez is ready to present his most recent fiction film. He shares the script and direction with the Swiss producer Laura Cazador, based on real facts.
The subject is part of the history of Cuba, but it has a contemporary resonance and I think that it could equally have happened in any other place, observed the National Cinema Prize-winner of 2007, considered by numerous critics as the most relevant living Cuban director.
The videotape goes deep into the life of a Swiss woman who arrived in the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa at the beginning of the 19th century, dressed as a man, and successfully practiced medicine under the name of Enrique Faber, and even managed to marry a young local woman.
According to Pérez, the gender transgression is part of the story, but he and Cazador also tried to represent her as a woman who transcended disparate limitations: social, moral, of every type, a person ahead of her time.
The career of surgeon was forbidden to women in that time and Faber adopted a masculine identity to be able to study it in Paris.
Although historians propose different versions of her private life, it is certain that this person, after participating in the Napoleonic wars, boarded a sailboat set for America and established herself in Cuba, where “the French doctor” aroused the envy of locals and experienced every type of pressure. “I feel that this film presents a story that I could not do alone, because it also requires a feminine perspective who deepens and understands well the complexity of such a strong character as that of the main character, Enriqueta Faber”, explains Pérez, co-writer and co-director.
Years ago, the project led them to the archives of the Havana Provincial Court of Justice, with the aim of digging around in the official registers of the scandalous trial carried out after discovering Faber’s true gender.
“From this historic footprint we decided how to focus our script and build a story based on true facts, because exposing a faithful story is very difficult when one is not able to discuss it with the real protagonists of those events”, says Cazador in dialogue with Prensa Latina.
“We don’t even know if, during the trial, she could have invented a tale to try to defend herself in such a delicate moment”, she says.
In the 92-minute-long film, co-produced by Bohemian Films (from Switzerland) and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the sentencing and the prosecutor’s plea in the trial are reproduced exactly, thanks to the historic archives, but the rest contains the producers’ own visions.
The film will participate in the 40th Festival of New Latin American Cinema, taking place next December, and has a cast including the French actress Sylvie Testud, and Cubans Yeni Soria, Mario Guerra, Héctor Noas, Giselle González and Corina Mestre, among others.
The directors explained that the editing was by Rodolfo Barros and the photography by the National Cinema Prize-winner Raúl Pérez Ureta, who, according to Pérez, contributed a lot to the original idea of making a film with many contrasts, dramatically hard, that was not at all pleasant. “Quite risky photography, but it interested us a lot as provocation to the viewer”, said the filmmaker.
To reinforce this type of challenge, they needed an ending with fierce waves and in the middle of the Caribbean summer there are not usually waves of heights over one metre.
Nevertheless, a sudden disaster saved their original intention: a hurricane appeared.
The powerful weather phenomenon, named Irma, became a blessing for the film, whose film crew willingly took on the risks of filming under adverse weather conditions and fell in love with such wild takes.
Only a few days after the passing of the meteoric event, the producers became aware of the devastating consequences for the island, and they were even overwhelmed with a certain feeling of guilt. Editor Rodolfo Barros took charge of perfecting the effect of such impressive takes and helped to cover absences such as that of a boat and the impossibility of filming in Baracoa, due to lack of budget.
(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Prensa Latina