2008, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 50, spring 2008; originally from Jump Cut 19 (1978)
Visual style and historical portrayal
by John Mraz
[Editor's note: This essay is an illustrated aesthetic analysis of a major Cuban classic, with new frame enlargements. The essay, originally published in Jump Cut 19, 1978, has not been rewritten for this issue and thus reflects the author's perspective at that time.]
Lucía is among the more extraordinary cultural products of the Cuban revolution, and many have recognized it as one of the most important films produced anywhere during the last decade. As such, it has received a good deal of serious critical attention, which has, however, followed "literary" models of analysis.[open endnotes in new window] This essay presents some notes toward the study of the work's visual style, with particular emphasis on the issue of historical portrayal, in the belief that it is at the level of visual structure that Humberto Solás has established the "forms of perception" through which Lucía is experienced. Thus, what follows is offered as an attempt to inquire into the appropriateness of visual analysis for the study of Cuban cinema, with the hope of enhancing the understanding of the revolutionary culture of modern Cuba.
Almost from the beginning of ICAIC, Cuban cineastes have been experimenting with a variety of film styles. In the words of Alfredo Guevara, founder of the film institute, this experimentation reflects the desire
"… to demystify cinema for the entire population; to work, in a way, against our own power; to reveal all the tricks, all the resources of language; to dismantle all the mechanisms of cinematic hypnosis."
What is most characteristic and original in Cuban stylistic experimentation is what I would call "formal resonance — the aesthetic tone created by the juxtaposition of different film forms within a particular work. For example, Memories of Underdevelopment juxtaposes documentary and fictional footage while The Other Francisco combines the "perfect cinema" of classical bourgeois form (e.g., smooth tracking, pans, and zooms) with the more "rough-hewn" style of modern documentary film. The use of multiple styles has crucial epistemological implications — the most important of which are an insistence on dialectical thinking and the recognition that consciousness realizes itself at the level of perception.
For Cuban cineastes, the act of perception is in itself an expression of an individual's historical context. The way in which an individual experiences the world comes out of the situation of one's class, race, and gender within a particular socioeconomic matrix. Conflicting visual styles are used in Cuban film to represent the perception of individuals from different historical periods or from different classes. Situated in a context of revolutionary transformation where the "fact of history" is ever-present, and rooted in the historical-materialist mode of analysis, Cuban filmmakers strive to present the dialectic of perception and consciousness that is present in history.
Lucía offers an important example of Cuban experimentation with film form. The fact of historical change is established perceptually through the use of a different film style in each of the segments. In addition, the "1895" segment portrays conflicting modes of class consciousness and perception by presenting the colonial aristocracy in a normal contrast range and the lower classes in high contrast. The use of high contrast here provides a visual metaphor for the greater "realism" of the oppressed because it imitates the look of old newsreels. The entire film, in fact, has a definite documentary feel. This is obtained largely through the use of hand-held cameras that are sometimes so exquisitely sensitive as to seem to give visual expression to the emotions of the characters.
Other stylistic techniques familiar in Cuban films, such as the use of foreground interventions and anonymous close-ups (both discussed in detail below) also contribute to the "documentary" effect and enhance the sense of historical realism. Visual motifs occur, such as the presentation of sex and race relations, the use of mirror and high-angle shots, and the scenes which open each of the segments; these motifs function to form the viewer's perception of historical transformation. Finally, each of the film's segments contains essential conceptual messages, which are conveyed as much through the visual as in the narrative presentation.
In more general terms, the relation of visual style in the film to directors' and viewers' perceptual consciousness is so complex as to be beyond the scope of this essay. However, the ways in which perception is structured by a film are of crucial significance. As Douglas Sirk once stated,
"The angles are the director's thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy." 
Thus, it could be argued that a film's visual structure represents the consciousness of the director — the ways in which s/he sees and experiences the world and the forms of perception through which s/he presents it for others to experience. In addition, if we assert that the individual perception of the director is in some ways an expression of the cultural matrix within which it was formed, then we could expect to find film styles manifesting various cultural perspectives.
The study of visual style proceeds from the notion that films are, among other things, a visual experience — an experience structured in very particular ways. The composition within the frame, the screen size accorded characters and objects, the angle and duration of shots, the lighting and camera movement, and the use of various visual motifs all function in relation to other elements of the film (storyline, music, actors and actresses, etc.) to determine the viewer's persective.  However, it should be noted that the meaning of visual structures and motifs is always context-bound and bears no objective signification. For example, a low angle shot could present a person as either extremely threatening or as a benevolent protector. Thus, the meaning of a shot is determined by context — that is, by its relations with the storyline and other elements in the film.
It should be noted as well that what is presented here constitutes but a few examples of visual style in Lucía. This essay does not pretend to be an exhaustive study of the film, even at the level of visual analysis. Its potential contribution does not reside in saying anything particularly "new" about the film but rather in demonstrating the richness of the integration of content and form and the importance of form in structuring the perception of content.
Synopsis of Lucía
"1895" — An upper-class white spinster approaching middle age and living in a provincial city falls in love with Rafael, a Spaniard, in the midst of the Cuban struggle for national liberation. Despite the warnings of Fernandina, a "deranged" ex-nun who was raped during the war and who serves as a symbol of authentic Cuban culture, Lucía is duped into betraying Felipe, her brother and an anti-colonialist guerilla. Felipe is killed in the ensuing battle and Lucía is abandoned by Rafael, who she now realizes is a Spanish spy. For his betrayal, Lucía stabs Rafael to death in the town square and with this act is united with nationalist Cuba.
"1932" — A middle-class white schoolgirl falls in love with Aldo, an activist engaged in terrorism against the Machado dictatorship. Lucía takes a job in a tobacco factory in a provincial city and participates in a general strike. The fall of Machado brings no substantive changes, though, and Aldo leaves his job with the new regime, quarrels with his former comrade, Antonio, and returns to terrorism only to be killed. Lucía is left alone and pregnant.
"196_" — A mulatta campesina is married to Tomás, an extreme male chauvinist. Tomás locks Lucía in their home, stops her from working, and attempts to interfere with the Literacy Campaign instructor who teaches Lucía to read and write. Encouraged by the support given her by her fellow women workers and the process of learning to read and write, Lucía decides that she is tired of being a "slave." She leaves Tomás, but they are miserable apart from one another. As the film ends, they are together again, but the conflict between them remains unresolved.
1. See, for example: Peter Biskind, "Lucía: Struggles with History," Jump Cut 2 (July-August 1974); John Mraz, "Lucía: History and Film in Revolutionary Cuba," Film & History 1 (February 1975); Anne Marie Taylor, "Lucía," Film Quarterly 23(3) (Winter-Spring 1975); Steven Kovacs, "Lucía: Style and Meaning in Revolutionary Film," Monthly Review 27:2 (June 1975).
2. Jon Halliday, ed., Sirk on Sirk (New York, 1972), p. 40.
3. My studies in visual analysis have developed largely through working with Janey Place. See her article, "Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir," reprinted in Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley, 1976). I am grateful to Julianne Burton, Janey Place, Lorraine Kahn, and David Sweet for their comments and criticism.
Historical transformation and visual style
The structural bond of Lucía's three segments is the "fact of history." History, as the dialectical transformation of situational contexts and human relations, is of crucial significance in revolutionary Cuban culture — a significance reflecting both Cuba's historical reality and ideological orientation. History is an important tool in the struggle against the colonial and neocolonial values imported and imposed on Cuba prior to 1959 and is crucial to the development of a truly national identity. The extraordinary transformation of the island since the revolution "proves" the reality of history and provides the context for he Marxist orientation of Cuban culture. In Lucía, we are presented visually with the fact of history through the opening shots of each segment, the thematic treatment of sex and race relations, and the use of certain compositional techniques such as high-angle and mirror shots.
Segment opening shots
Historical transformation is immediately presented in the titled opening shots. These shots both establish the central theme of the segment and indicate the degree of change which has taken place from the time of the preceding segment.
(#1)"1895" begins with a shot of the town square, framed so as to express the dominance of massive colonial structures. Looming over everything is the tower which serves as a metaphor for the economic and ideological phallocentrism of colonial society. The critique of this phallocentrism is the focus of the "1895" segment and will be discussed in detail later (#35, #45).
(#2) "1932" opens with a very different kind of shot. Here, the high-angle camera indicates that the women are trapped in a situation of industrial labor characteristic of the bourgeois epoch. Their fragmentation and alienation from one another is expressed by the building's beams, which break up and bisect the image.
(#3) "196_" presents us with yet another image. Here, we begin in the open countryside, symbolic of both the openness of the new situation and the "naturalness" of the revolutionary process. Further, the shot's location also indicates the Cuban revolution's focus on developing rural areas. Finally, when coupled with the action which immediately follows, the shot presents us with an important critique of the prerevolutionary image of the picturesque. The shot immediately calls to mind images of sleepy peasants alongside country roads — a picturesque stereotype which quickly turns on itself when the truck rolls down the road and the women run to join their fellow workers.
Human relations: women
One of the ways in which the fact of history is visually conveyed in Lucía is through showing the transformation of personal relations among women. Representative two-shots of the Lucías and their closest friends show how such relations are determined by the historical contexts in which they occur.
(#4) The presentation of Lucía 1 and Rafaela in church against a background of people suggests the centrality of religion in providing a cohesive social context within class boundaries. Although the church is an oppressive and phallocentric institution (note background pillars) and the relations which take place in it are seen to be both formal and ritualized, it nonetheless provides a context in which the relationship beyween Lucía and Rafaela has both a place and meaning.
(#5) A very different situation is presented here for the bourgeois Lucía 2. Here, the relationship of Flora and Lucía is presented as fragmented and alienated through the use of the mirror shot and the empty background. The use of the mirror also represents the emphasis placed on women's appearance in bourgeois culture and the way in which such an emphasis pits women against and separates them from one another.
(#6) In #6 we see Lucía 3 and Angelina at a party. Here, the two-shot against the background crowd indicates that the women exist in a social context that fosters their relationship. Gone is the fragmentation and alienation of bourgeois culture, and the phallocentrism of colonial society has been reduced to vestigial remnants that are represented visually by the foreground bottles and in the character of Tomás.
Human relations: women and men
Further substantiation of historical change is presented through the visual structure of male-female relations in the film. Comparisons of the visual styles used in the initial meetings between the Lucías and their lovers demonstrate that their relations are presented as much through formal structure as in the storyline.
(#7) In the initial meeting between Rafael and Lucía 1, male dominance is indicated in his central position in the frame. His dominance so great as to almost crowd her out of the picture.
(#8) Lucía 2's meeting with Aldo is presented very differently. Here, after a short longshot containing both of them, the film cuts back and forth between individual close-ups. Lucía is shot with a sharp foreground focus, which makes her stand out from her background. Further, it appears that filters may have been used to soften her features in order to produce a portrait image reminiscent of Hollywood's presentation of women stars during the "Golden Age."
(#9) Lucía 2 gazes admiringly at Aldo, who is framed with a "halo" created by the automobile tire. By cutting between the characters rather than putting them in the same frame, the film comments on the atomistic separation present in even the most intimate of bourgeois relations.
(#10) Lucía 3's meeting with Tomás utilizes the camera angle to express continued male dominance. Here we see Lucía from the high-angle perspective of Tomás, framed between him and a mirror which symbolizes the carryover of bourgeois attitudes towards women and physical beauty. Nonetheless, her position in center-screen shows this as a situation different from the preceding two segments.
Human relations: race
The depiction of race relations, and the way in which they are transformed in the culture from the first to the last segment, is yet another way in which the film establishes history. Here, the depiction of the historical moment occurs essentially at a visual level and is often presented at the beginning of each segment.
(#11) In "1895" we are immediately shown Lucía 1 and her mother in a quitrin pulled by a horse, on which a black servant is seated. This servant is the only black person seen until the appearance of the naked black cavalry; his presentation functions as a clear statement on the nature of race relations during the colonial period.
(#12) The presentation of the fight between the Spanish, the white guerillas, and the black cavalry provides one of the films most trenchant visual analyses. In the fight at the coffee plantation, the white soldiers become essentially indistinguishable from one another as they struggle in the mud.
(#13) The naked black cavalry, however, is clearly distinguishable from both of the other groups. Here, their nakedness not only differentiates them visually but is a commentary both on the economic deprivation of their class and race as well as their "naturalness," as opposed to the sexual repression of the other groups. It is also an important example of the dramatic uses of historical veracity. The Mambises often did fight naked — a tactic which terrified the Spanish forces.
(#14) The visual differentiation of the black cavalry from the other groups indicates that, from the perspective of historical materialism, the accession to power of the white guerillas will make little difference to the masses of Cuba. Here, the black cavalry represents the lower classes and, thus, the possibility of greatest contestation to the colonial structure of class and race relations.
(#15) In "1932" the camera zooms out almost immediately in the opening sequence of the segment to disclose a black woman seated near Lucía 2 and her mother on the boat. Thus, we are told visually that race relations are somewhat different than in the preceding segment; however, the mother's later disparaging remarks about blacks indicate that the continuance of race prejudice.
(#16) Lucía 3 of "196_" appears to be a mulatta. Perhaps more importantly, she is exhorted to hurry to the truck by Angelina, a black woman who is in a position of leadership. Through presenting us with these women characters, the film makes clear the fact that race relations have been fundamentally transformed by the revolution.
High angle shots
The historical transformation of human relations and their contexts is also conveyed in the context of formal techniques such as high-angle shots. In general, the use of a high camera angle represents the trapping of characters in their environments and is a visual metaphor for the way in which their actions are determined by these contexts. In Lucía, the content of representative high-angle also conveys a sense of the historical differences between such entrapping contexts.
(#17) In "1895" religion is seen to be one of the central institutional structures through which the colonial forms of sexual and political oppression are maintained. Immediately after Rafaela has released repressed sexual needs through relating the story of Fernandina's rape in intimate detail to Lucía 1 and her friends, Solás cuts to the high-angle shot seen here. This shot expresses the way in which the women are trapped in patterns of sexual repression by religion. Thus trapped, the women's sexual needs are frustrated, and it is out of such frustration that Lucía 1's infatuation with Rafael develops.
(#18) Another high-angle shot in the "1895" sequence shows Lucía 1 pulled into a decaying colonial building by Rafael, although she knows he is married and has reason to suspect his honesty. Thus, the visual presentation functions as a metaphor for the way in which the vestiges of the colonial structure continue to entrap individuals and to determine their lives.
(#19) In "1932" war are shown Lucía 2 in her apartment after she has been left alone by the death of Aldo. The fragmentation and alienation of bourgeois existence is expressed in her presentation as a lonely individual, trapped in her loneliness through her isolation in her own home.
(#20) "196_" presents us with the dialectical response to bourgeois isolation. Lucía 3 has been shut up in her home by Tomás, in accordance with traditional patterns of male/female relations. Now, however, the revolution has created a larger context in which such attitudes are inappropriate. Thus, we see Lucía struggling against her confinement within bourgeois institutions, by attempting to break out of her home to join with her fellow workers.
Mirror shots generally represent the alienation which results from contexts in which the emphasis on appearance, and its concomitant false social values, estranges people (particularly women) from their real selves and causes them to take on the alien self of appearance in order to satisfy the social requirement of physical attractiveness. This technique serves as a metaphor for the primacy accorded appearance as opposed to reality in a capitalist system. In Lucía mirror shots also convey a sense of historical transformation, by expressing changes in the relative importance of appearance.
(#21) This shot shows Lucía 1 who has just returned home after seeing Rafael for the second time. It foregrounds the emphasis placed on women's appearance in colonial society. As Lucía enters the room, the power of her "alien self" is expressed in the way the mirror's frame dominates the image.
(#22) Here, the power of Lucía's "alien self" is further expressed, where her mirrored image is the center of focus as she prepares to meet Rafael. Her "real self" has almost ceased to exist and its place has been taken by a social stereotype of physical appearance—her "mirrored self," which deceives her into believing that Raefel is honest despite the fact that she has already received sufficient warnings to the contrary.
(#23) "1932" begins with much the same idea. Here we see Lucía's mother as Lucía 2 sees her. The mother is reflected in a mirror as she attempts to convince herself of her continuing physical attractiveness, in the face of her husband's infidelity. The neocolonial deformities of Cuban culture are expressed in her imitation of Jean Harlow. The distortion of the image at the edges of the mirror indicate an incipient criticism of this way of thinking in a world in the process of transformation.
(#24) This image further expresses the weight of historical tradition. After seeing her mother serve as a model of colonized femininity, Lucía 2 enters the room and is forced by her mother to sit in front of the mirror in order to be molded into the same alienated patterns. Here, the confines of the mirror (and, metaphorically, a society that judges women in terms of their physical appearance) imprison and dominate Lucía, and she reacts to this assault on her desires for self-determination with anger, withdrawal and resentment.
(#25) Lucía reaction to the previous situation is graphically expressed in this shot. Here she and Flora write strike slogans on the mirror of the women's room in the factory. Thus the very symbol of women's oppression becomes a medium to convey the dialectical response of worker organization in a strike that will eventually topple the Machado regime.
(#26) "196_" presents us with the vestigial remnants of this emphasis on appearance. Here, Lucía 3 uses a mirror to make herself up.
(#27) But the mirror (which is, after all, simply a tool for self-reflection and self-perception) quickly tells her how alienated and inappropriate such behavior in revolutionary Cuba.
(#28) Tomás, though, has not yet acquired a consciousness of the oppressiveness of appearance-oriented focus in human relations. As a man, he has suffered in a less immediate way from this phenomenon. And, as is evident in his primping, he is unable to use this tool for self-clarification. This inability to really see himself is graphically expressed in the way his image is obstructed by the foreground objects.
Historical realism and documentary style
An aesthetic of "historical realism" is achieved in contemporary cinema through imitating the techniques characteristic of television's "on-the-spot" coverage of news events. Cuban films (for example, First Charge of the Machete) often play upon an obvious anachronism inherent in the use of these techniques; the visual style incorporates "news" cinematography in a highly self-conscious fashion in order to emphasize the fact of historical mediation. While Lucía is more restrained in its use of these techniques than First Charge, the visual effects produced by the hand-held cameras employed throughout the film are only the most obvious manifestations of the work's documentary style. Two other techniques characteristic of contemporary documentary style also serve to convey a sense of historical realism: foreground interventions and anonymous close-ups.
Foreground interventions come between the actors or narrative action and the camera itself. By placing or moving people or objects in the path of what appears to be the camera's focus, the film replicates the style of images seen in documentary films, where the main action is uncontrolled and unrehearsed and thus may be "interrupted" at any moment. The use of this technique heightens a sense of realism and draws viewers into the film in a convincing and powerful way that is unavailable to films using more "classical" techniques.
(#29) In "1895" people and objects constantly pass between the actresses and the camera as the women discuss a returning acquaintance's Parisian hat and her husband. Here, the technique not only provides a sense of realism, but the visual intervention of a soldier and his hat in the foreground serve as a visual reference to the ongoing war. Thus, the perfunctory kiss of the women and the frivolity of their concerns become ironic in the context of the struggle for national liberation.
(#30) In "1932," a horse and cart cut across the path of the oncoming demonstration. This serves to convince the viewers of the "reality" of the demonstration and draws them into the ensuing battle.
(#31) "196_" presents us with perhaps a more familiar use of foreground interventions. Here, the sense of the party's reality is heightened through including part of the back of a dancer's head. This frame enlargement also provides a good example of the use of anonymous close-ups.
Anonymous close ups
Anonymous close-ups are close-ups of individuals who remain unknown and who do not appear at other times in the film. This technique is integral to the documentary style in that it presents anonymous individuals as at times being equally important as the central protagonists. Thus, the technique works against the emotional primacy assigned to individual characters and the visual status accorded "stars" in bourgeois cinema by insisting on the ever-present existence of the masses in history. The technique was probably first developed by Sergei Eisenstein in the context of revolutionary Soviet cinema.
(#32) In "1895," we are presented with the close-up of a young girl who is watching the harassment of Fernandina. Here, the stationary quality of the shot serves to generate sympathy for Fernandina as a symbol for women of her class through emphasizing their feelings of impotence in the face of colonial oppression. The girl's concern contrasts with the voyeurism and titillation of Lucía's circle when hearing the story of Fernandina's rape. Finally, the technique conveys the presence of future generations and the way in which they are formed by that which is taking place before their eyes.
The close-up of another young girl is repeated at the end of the film (#59). There, however, it is active, not stationary, and represents the fact that for girls growing up in revolutionary Cuba, the future will be very different.
(#33) In "1932," Solás cuts to one of the women who works with Lucía 2 while they listen to the harangue of the forewomen. Differences in class and race between the workers and forewomen are clearly expressed in the marked contrast of clothing and hairstyles.
(#34) The party sequence from "196_" provides us with yet another example of the anonymous close-up. However, the arrival of visitors from Eastern Europe has created a very different mood than that seen in #31. Here we see the reaction of Cubans to the introduction of foreign cultures — a reaction clearly linked to the colonial and neocolonial patterns of domination presented in the preceding segments of the film.
Visual structure and segment themes
Within each of the segments, particular techniques are used to develop certain themes appropriate to that historical period. Although "1895" is the most self-consciously "classical," and thus the richest of the segments in visual style, all three segments contain examples of formal structure to convey thematic material.
Critique of phallocentrism
A central focus of Lucía is the criticism of phallocentrism, the patriarchal domination of society. Although each of the segments speaks to this issue, it is at the formal level in "1895" that the most devastating critique of phallocentrism is developed.
(#35) Here, as was true in their first meeting (#7), Rafael's power over Lucía 1 is portrayed through the dominance given him in the frames in which they appear together.
(#36, #37, #38) As can be seen in these frames, Lucía has become the pursuer rather than the pursued — a subject expressing her own desires rather than simply being the object of Rafael's lust (and deceit). Nonetheless, his continued dominance of the relationship is indicated by the way in which his position in the frame determines her position. In #36, she chases after him, but each time she appears to move toward a foreground position of power, he brushes her against pillars (phallic imagery) which force her to move into the background.
The tactics of Rafael's retreat are made clear in #37 and #38. Here, he has moved to a different plane in the frame, expressive of the degree to which she must violate her own "space" in order to link herself with him. Further, the high-angle seen in #37 and the domination of the foreground by Rafael in #38 express both his continued mastery and Lucía's subservience.
(#39) After the consummation of their relationship, the domination of both individuals by the structure of the phallocentric system in which they live is pointedly expressed through their presentation as tiny objects beneath the imposing trees and tower.
(#40, #41, #42, #43) The formal critique is reiterated in these cuts, which follow immediately after #39. In #40, Rafael combines the phallic imagery of the tree with that of the whip, a visual metaphor expressive of male domination and a symbol of his mastery. In #41, Lucía accepts such mastery and appears to be worshiping at the same shrine, although she would call love what he would consider to be "power" — a message underscored by her passivity, both as a character and within the frame. This is followed by the cuts seen in #42 and #43, where the tree between Rafael and Lucía can be sees as a metaphor for the fetishistic worship of the erect phallus within the patriarchal system — thus, both the nexus of their relationship as well as that which separates them from one another, as indicated by their lack of eye-to-eye contact and the contrast in the emotions indicated by their expressions.
(#44, #45) The critique of women's participation in the maintenance of phallocentrism is presented at the end of the segment in a crucial juxtaposition. Here, immediately after Lucía has stabbed Rafael for the first time (#44), the film cuts to the shot presented in #45. Lucía's friend, Rafaela, is horrified by this attack on male dominance and throws up her arms as if in anguished prayer to the sugar mill or church steeple which towers over her. The economic structure and ideological bond of the repressive colonial society has been assaulted, and Rafaela's consciousness is capable only of reacting in horror. Women as a group are not yet ready to overthrow male dominance, and Lucía's personal enlightenment leads to her insanity. This "insanity," however, will finally link her to authentic Cuba in the person of Fernandina (see #50, below).
Consciousness and perception
As discussed in the introduction above, one of the defining characteristics of Cuban cinema is the recognition of the relation between consciousness and perception, and the insistence on the possibility of transforming consciousness through historical struggle. The connection between how people think and how they see is presented primarily in the juxtaposition between the high contrast used to portray the lower classes and the more normal contrast range which marks the presentation of Lucía 1 and her class. (Because of problems in reproducing frame enlargements, it is not possible to indicate this difference with images. A clear comparison of the contrast ranges can be seen in the juxtaposition between Lucía's group in the house and Fernandina's confrontation with the Spanish soldiers in the street outside the house early in the segment.) Having established this thematic visual structure, the film then goes on to use it as a means of portraying the transformation of Lucía's consciousness.
(#45, #47) This is seen first of all in the sequence with the prostitutes. Lucía has decided to run away to the coffee plantation with Rafael, after having had sex with him at the sugar mill. As she leaves her hone, the film cuts to a high-contrast dreamlike sequence in which a prostitute who clearly resembles Lucía is also in the process of running away. For a moment we are uncertain whether this is a nightmare dreamt by Lucía or an actual occurrence in the street. The dilemma is immediately resolved by a cut to the normal contrast, high-angle shot which includes both Lucía and the prostitutes (#47).
Through this cut we come to understand that Lucía's perception of resemblance to the prostitute has resulted from a "frame of mind," which made her see herself as a prostitute because of her sexual relations with Rafael. The use of a high-angle camera demonstrates her perception and emphasizes the way the colonial Catholic society entraps women within restricted and controlled socioeconomic roles and limits their consciousness through sexual repression. Lucía's incipient recognition that she is as much a victim of political and sexual repression as lower-class Cuban women is thus graphically presented in this brilliant mini-essay.
(#48) The transformation of consciousness presaged in the prostitute sequence is realized on the battlefield. Betrayed and deserted by Rafael, and horrified at endangering her brother's life, Lucía is unable to bear the strain and undergoes a profound transformation of consciousness. Here, by limiting the focus to Lucía, the film indicates that she has lost connection with what she has until now considered to be "reality." Her class perception is no longer able to integrate the contradictions of love and sexual repression, and she begins to see the world in a new way.
(#49) This transformation is presented primarily in the shift to high contrast footage for the rest of the segment. Lucía now sees the world through the more "realistic" eyes of the lower-class Cubans (the footage is seemingly realistic because of imitating the high contrast film stock in ancient newsreels). At the coffee plantation, this visual theme is expressed through the presentation of the old soldier as a symbol of the reality of an aged and decayed Spain.
(#50) At the end of the segment, the fact that Lucía has in some ways transcended the boundaries of her class conditioning is underscored through Fernandina's touching of her face. Fernandina represents the authenticity of a repressed and humiliated Cuba, driven to the point of insanity by Spanish rapaciousness. It is Fernandina who comforts Lucía in her final agony, and the freeze-frame ending indicates that though Lucía has been deserted by her class of origin, she has at last found support and nurturance from a source she formerly experienced only as alien.
The visual style of "1932" is not as self-consciously classical as that used in "1895." However, the segment is characterized by the continual use of unbalanced frames, which function to portray the instability typical of a neocolonial culture and the psychological imbalance that results from being caught in such a context. The use of this technique throughout the segment indicates the continuity of neocolonialism in spite of the fall of Machado.
(#51, #52, #53) Frame imbalance can be seen in #51, where Lucía 2 and Aldo are framed against the sea prior to the fall of Machado, and in #52 and #53 as Lucía and the policeman wait to view Aldo's body at the end of the segment.
(#54) Perhaps the most interesting use of frame imbalance is augmented by the frenzied swooping and swirling of the camera as it moves through the crowd.
(#55) Shots of Aldo during this scene, though, tend to be more balanced and appear more purposeful. This indicates that he is a stable being in an unstable world, an outsider in the bizarre depraved celebration of the acceptance of the reinstituted neocolonial rule.
(#65) However, the way Aldo is framed as he rushes out the door at the end of the sequence indicates the psychological imbalance caused with even the most committed of individuals by so decadent a context.
Vestigial psychological distortion
Like "1932," "196_" does not appear to be as self-consciously stylized as "1895." One expressive device, however, is the use of a wide-angle lens to portray the vestiges of psychological distortion left by the conditioning under prerevolutionary culture. This is particularly effective at the end of the film, where Lucía 3 and Tomás are "reunited."
(#57) We know Tomás' vestigial machismo to be a distortion caused by his psychological formation in the prerevolutionary society, and inappropriate in his present context. This theme has been developed in the storyline and is here visually underscored through the distortion of the wide-angle lens.
(#58) We discover in this sequence that Lucía's psychology is complementary to Tomás'. Her psychological base is equally distorted as a result of her own formation in the phallocentrism of prerevolutionary society, and she remains attracted to Tomás both because of and in spite of his machismo.
(#59) Solas' intention in using the wide-angle lens is clear when we compare the distortion of Lucía and Tomás with the normal presentation of the young girl. It is in some senses too late for Tomás and Lucía. But the coming generations of Cuban children will have no such distortions impinging on their perceptions and relationships. The child's presence at the film's end also indicates the thematic focus on the masses and their future rather than the isolated individuals who are the focus of classical bourgeois cinema.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.