The best-known images of the Cuban revolution are Alberto Korda’s iconic portraits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, which hung in the kitchens of many student flats in the 1960s; the anti-imperialist struggle also left its mark in West Germany. Other, more marginalized impressions from post-revolutionary Cuba arrived in West Berlin with some delay.
In 1977, Sara Gómez experienced the feature film “De cierta manera” (“In a certain sense”) premiered at the International Forum of the Berlinale, three years after the death of the Cuban filmmaker. Gómez had been affiliated with the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) since the 1960s – and was thus responsible for the self-portrayal of Castro’s Cuba.
“De cierta manera” looks back on an interesting history. It became a milestone in post-colonial and feminist cinema, although it has become increasingly rare. The damaged 16mm negative was lost years ago during initial restoration work in a Swedish copy factory. The two copies that Arsenal bought after the Forum premiere showed signs of wear after forty years in the cinema, so that the last traces of this classic of “third cinema” were in danger of disappearing.
Her films were long banned in Cuba
The fact that “De cierta manera” is again available to a wide audience today is thanks to the joint initiative of the Arsenal, the ICAIC, which owns a duplicate negative, and the House of World Cultures, which in 2021 as part of the project ” The New Alphabet” commissioned a digital restoration.
Such transnational endeavors are not uncommon nowadays, especially when it comes to safeguarding the cultural heritage of peripheral and economically precarious film nations. Gómez’s documentary work was banned in her homeland until the late 1980s and was only shown abroad. For many years they gave a unique insight behind the scenes of post-revolutionary Cuba – and thus into a political project that was a role model for the European left. The case of Sara Gómez shows how important such international cooperation has become.
Arsenal has been taking on such “orphaned” films for a number of years with the “Archive Apart” initiative. The fact that the curator Can Sungu, co-founder of the Sinema Transtopia in Wedding and long-standing partner of the Arsenal, is now part of the team of the new HKW manager Bonaventure Ndikung gives hope that such cooperation will be intensified in the future.
“De cierta manera”, which can currently be seen on the Arsenal digital platform and as part of a small tribute to Sara Gómez, alongside her short documentary “Iré a Santiago” (“I am Going to Santiago”, 1964) on Mubi, has nothing lost its fascination. By the early 1970s, Gómez had distanced himself from Castro’s doctrine, which portrayed Cuba as a homogeneous utopian society. “De cierta manera” exposed the sexist, social and economic predetermined breaking points in a mixture of essay and love story.
“Some characters are real, others are fictional,” the film begins. The committed teacher Yolanda, played by the amateur actress Yolanda Cuéllar, teaches the macho foreman Mario (Mario Balmaseda) a lesson in class struggle, while Gómez documents how the revolution has aggravated the situation in the slums. “De cierta manera” is both didactic and dialectical in the style of the French Nouvelle Vague. An Afro-Samba love song by former prizefighter Guillermo Díaz not only seals Yolanda and Mario’s relationship, it also points to the possible future of a new, better Cuba.
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