Havana, December 1942.
Studied architecture, 1957.
Involved in insurrectionary movement against Batista government,
1957–59; member of Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria
Cinematografico (ICAIC), from 1959; directed first film in collaboration
with Hector Veitia, under supervision of Joris Ivens, 1961; Licenciatura
in history, University of Havana, 1978.
Films as Director:
Minerva traduce el mar (co-d)
Variaciones ; El retrato
La acusation ; Manuela
Un dia de Noviembre
Cantata de Chile (+ sc)
Nacer en Leningrado (short)
Un hombre de exito ( A Successful Man ) (+ sc)
El Siglo de las luces
By SOLAS: articles—
Interview with Pastor Vega, in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 42/44, 1967.
Interview with Gerardo Chijona, in Ecran (Paris), January 1977.
Interview with Gerardo Chijona, in Cine Cubano (Havana), March 1978.
Interview with Julianne Burton and Marta Alvear, in Jump Cut (Chicago), December 1978.
Interview with J. King, in Framework (Norwich), Spring 1979.
"Reflexiones," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 102, 1982.
"Alrededor de una dramaturgia cinematográfica latinoamericano," in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 105, 1983.
Interview in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 116, 1986.
Interview with P. L. Thirard and P. A. Paranagua, in Positif (Paris), December 1988.
Interview with H. Romano, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1993.
"Kino in Kuba," an interview with Rainer Braun, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), May 1997.
On SOLAS: books—
Nelson, L., Cuba: The Measure of a Revolution , Minneapolis, 1972.
Myerson, Michael, Memories of Underdevelopment: The Revolutionary Films of Cuba , New York, 1973.
Chanan, Michael, The Cuban Image , London, 1985.
Burton, Julianne, editor, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers , Austin, Texas, 1986.
On SOLAS: articles—
Sutherland, Elizabeth, "Cinema of Revolution—Ninety Miles from Home," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1961/62.
Adler, Renata, article in New York Times , 10, 11, and 12 February 1969.
Engel, Andi, "Solidarity and Violence," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1969.
Biskind, P., " Lucía : Struggles with History," in Jump Cut (Chicago), July/August 1974.
Mraz, John, " Lucía : History and Film in Revolutionary Cuba," in Film and History (Newark, New Jersey), February 1975.
Kovacs, Steven, " Lucía : Style and Meaning in Revolutionary Film," in Monthly Review (New York), June 1975.
"Solas Issue" of Jump Cut (Chicago), December 1978.
Film a Doba (Prague), November 1986.
Cioni, P. "Humberto D. Solas: Dal neorealismo alla realta virtuale," in Cinema Sud (Avellino), August/September/October 1997.
* * *
Perhaps the foremost practitioner of the historical genre for which Cuban cinema has achieved international acclaim, Humberto Solas is a member of the first generation of directors to mature under the revolution. Of humble origins, Solas became an urban guerrilla at age fourteen and later left school altogether because "it was a very unstable time to try to study. Either Batista (dictator of Cuba) closed down the university, or we did." Prior to the triumph of the revolution, being a filmmaker "seemed like an unrealizable dream," but Solas financed a short film out of his savings and was invited to join the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) soon after its founding in 1959. Although it is customary for Cuban directors to serve an extensive apprenticeship in documentaries, Solas directed several early fiction shorts as well. He considers his imitation of European film styles in these works to be typical of feelings of cultural inferiority and alienation in the underdeveloped world, and affirms that "Neither me, nor my generation, nor my country can be seen in any of these films."
Historical subjects proved to be Solas's avenue to Cuban and Latin American reality. He believes that the importance attached to historical films in Cuba derives from the fact that "Our history had been filtered through a bourgeois lens. We lack a coherent, lucid, and dignified appreciation of our national past." Manuela , a medium-length film on the guerrilla war in the mountains, was the first of Solas's works to embody "more genuinely Cuban forms of expression." His continuing search for national (and Latin American) cinematic idioms and themes led him to direct his masterpiece to date, Lucía , at age twenty-six. Focusing on three periods of Cuban history through the characters of representative women, Solás used three different film styles to portray forms of experience and cognition during these epochs. In his later films, Solas interpretively analyzed the history of Haiti ( Simparele ), Chile ( Cantata de Chile ), and slavery in Cuba ( Cecilia Valdés ). These works are marked by an exciting blend of music, dance, documentary footage, primitive painting, and the re-enactment of historical events in an operatic style.
Solas considers his films "historical melodramas," in which a Marxist perspective provides a materialistic explanation for events and personal psychology. He contrasts this to common melodrama and its "particular world of valorative abstractions" which determine events, but lack the power to explain them. For example, although the travails suffered by the heroines of Lucía are experienced personally, they are depicted as deriving specifically from the colonial and neocolonial situation of Cuba (and vestigial machismo), rather than from any "eternal passions" which have no relationship to concrete historical circumstances.
For Solas, historical cinema is always a dialogue about the present, and he has often chosen women as a central metaphor in his films because, as a dominated group, they feel more deeply and reflect more immediately the contradictions of society—for example, the maintenance of archaic forms such as machismo in a revolutionary situation. As Solas states: "The sad masquerade of limited, archetyped, and suffocating human relations in defense of private property is most transparent in the case of the women—half of humanity. The pathetic carnival of economic exploitation begins there." To Solas, the past is only present insofar as it continues to condition (for both good and bad) the lives of people today. It is about this past/present that Humberto Solas has made and continues to make beautiful and moving cinema.