El Otro Francisco - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





(The Other Francisco)


Cuba, 1975


Director: Sergio Giral

Production: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC); black and white, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes. Released 1975. Filmed in Cuba.


Screenplay: Sergio Giral, from the novel Francisco by Anselmo Suárez y Romero written in 1838–39; photography: Livio Delgado; editor: Nelson Rodriguez; music: Leo Brouwer.

Cast : Miguel Benavides ( Francisco ); Ramon Veloz ( Ricardo ); Alina Sanchez ( Dorotea ); Margarita Balboa; Adolfo Llaurado.


Publications


Books:

Chanan, Michael, The Cuban Image , London, 1985.

Burton, Julianne, editor, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers , Austin, Texas, 1986.


Articles:

Werb, H., in Variety (New York), 6 August 1975.

Grelier, R., in Image et Son (Paris), March 1977.

Crowdus, Gary, and Julianne Burton, "Cuban Cinema and the Afro-Cuban Heritage: An Interview with Sergio Giral," in Black Scholar , Summer 1977.

Hollywood Reporter , 7 July 1977.

West, Dennis, in Cineaste (New York), Fall 1977.

Masiello, Francine, " The Other Francisco: Film Lessons on Novel Reading," in Ideologies and Literature , January-February 1978.

Lesage, Julia, "Creating History," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1985.

Forster, Imogen, "AfroCuba: An Anthology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture," in Race and Class , vol. 36, no. 3, January-March 1995.


* * *


Cuba's first anti-slavery novel, Francisco , was written in 1838–39 by Anselmo Suárez y Romero, who came from a family of slaveowners. The novel portrays an interplay of personal emotions and passions— those of masters and slaves—and contains scenes stressing the harsh lot of plantation slaves. This depiction of plantation life was submitted to Richard Madden, a British agent investigating slavery in Cuba at that time.

The film El otro Francisco is not a mere adaptation of the novel Francisco . El otro Francisco is a Marxist analysis of the book and its ideological framework. The film rejects the novel's liberal bourgeois idealism and uses a historical materialist perspective in an attempt to reveal the true conditions of slavery. The first half of the film may be seen as a critical "re-reading" of the book. The novel's melodramatic plot is followed, but two key ingredients are added: scenes illustrative of the economic situation and the class conflict, and voice-over critical commentary which underscores the novel's Romantic frame work and important social and economic facts ignored by Suárez y Romero. The second half of the film is a de-romanticized, historical materialist re-creation of the 19th century plantation where life was governed by the economics of sugar production, by class antagonism, and by Britain's overseas mercantile expansion. This section of the film also dramatizes methods of slave resistance, a subject which remained unexamined in Suárez y Romero's work. To critique history and art, Giral imaginatively drew on typical resources of the fiction film (interesting characters, plot, powerful music) and of documentary (statistics, interviews, voice-over explanation).

Giral, who is black, believes that his fellow Cubans know little about the history of slavery in their country. To fill this gap, Giral made El otro Francisco as well as two other features on Cuban slavery. Giral and his colleagues at the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos have supported these projects because the film institute is committed to re-examining and reassessing the nation's history. The subject of Afro-Cuban slavery merits cinematic treatment because the Black tradition of resistance (both to slavery and to the Spanish colonial powers) represents a significant but little-known contribution to the formation of today's socialist Cuba, whose proclaimed goals include an end to all forms of domination and escape from the oppressive legacy of colonialism.

In El otro Francisco , Giral strived for authenticity in his depiction of the Black slave experience. Black speech patterns, chants, ceremonies, and dances were researched with the aid of the University of Havana Folklore Group. Certain information, such as the slaves' scheduled hours of work and sleep, was drawn from Richard Madden's published documents on Cuba.

The convoluted structure and critical digressions of El otro Francisco appealed to critics and intellectuals but not to Cuba's general movie-going public. Because Giral proposes to reach a wide audience with his films, in his subsequent features on slavery he abandoned the structural and narrative experimentation which characterized El otro Francisco . Giral's cinematic experiment stands as a unique example of cinema as an instrument through which to critique literature.

—Dennis West

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