Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Paraiso at the Miami Beach Cinematheque Oct 23, 24 & 25th ---And Review by Rene Rodriguez -The Miami Herald film critic
Leon Ichaso's ''Paraiso'' returns to Miami
If you missed Leon Ichaso's provocative Cuban exile drama Paraiso (Paradise) when it made its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival in March, you'll have a second chance to catch it during the Miami Beach Cinematheque's A Weekend With Leon Ichaso running Oct. 23-25.
Shot entirely in Miami using local actors and crew for a measly $30,000, Paraiso centers on a Cuban balsero who encounters the dark side of the American dream on Miami's mean streets.
Paraiso will be shown at 8 p.m. Oct. 23 and 7 and 9:15 p.m. Oct. 24-25. The always-outspoken Ichaso, who is equally adept at talking about Cuban assimilation or low-budget filmmaking, will introduce each screening and participate in a post-film Q&A.
For more information, visit www.mbcinema.com
'Paraiso' wraps up film trilogy on Cuban exiles
BY RENE RODRIGUEZ
In Paraiso, actor Adrian Mas portrays Ivan, who has fled Cuba on a raft and ends up in Miami. In his now-classic directorial debut, 1979's El Super, Havana-born filmmaker Leon Ichaso documented the travails of a homesick, blue-collar Cuban exile struggling to raise his family in an unforgiving New York.
In 1996's Azúcar amarga (Bitter Sugar), Ichaso revisited the Cuban-exile theme from the inside-out, exploring contemporary life on the island and the growing disillusionment of people who had bought into the ideals of Castro's revolution.
With Paraiso (Paradise), which makes its world premiere Wednesday at the Miami International Film Festival, Ichaso brings his unofficial trilogy to a strikingly unsentimental and haunting close -- a finale the director believes will inevitably rankle at least some members of Miami's Cuban exile community.
''It is important to remember this is one man's tale and is not meant to be a generalization of all the Cubans who are coming here today,'' said Ichaso, 60. ``I do think of the three films as a trilogy, and this one is the end, exploring the new arrivals, these new little Cuban Frankensteins that Castro makes and sets loose on the world.
'When I made El Super, some people asked me, `Why, of all the successful Cubans who have emigrated to this country, did you have to pick a loser who used to be a guaguero [bus driver]?' But that's what felt interesting to me. I'm ready for a similar reaction to Paraiso from some people, but I think there is something visceral about the film that will connect with people. It might stun or bruise them for a second, but they will sense there is no lie here.''
Shot entirely in South Florida last year, Paraiso centers on Remigio (veteran Cuban actor Miguel Gutierrez), a successful radio talk-show host surprised to discover that a son he never knew he had, the handsome Ivan (Adrian Mas), has fled Cuba on a raft and arrived in Miami.
Struggling with the awkwardness and strangeness of the revelation, Remigio welcomes Ivan into his posh Key Biscayne condo, doing his best to make the wide-eyed young man feel at home.
Ivan regales Remigio and his friends with harrowing stories about his voyage and his memories of listening to his dad's show on the island via a beat-up radio with a wire hanger for an antenna. Remigio takes his son to eat at Versailles, where he marvels at the size of the portions, and hooks him up with a job as a pool attendant at a South Beach hotel.
A DARKER SIDE
But Paraiso also hints at a darkness lurking within Ivan -- a casual incident of shoplifting, a chance encounter on a Little Havana street with a drug addict who claims to have been his inseparable pal back on the island -- that grows more pervasive after his assimilation hits a rocky patch.
''Paraiso measures the damage that 50 years of dictatorship has wreaked on a broken country,'' said Alejandro Rios, director of the Cuban Cinema Series at Miami Dade College. ``Ivan is the embodiment of the Cuban Revolution's Hombre Nuevo [New Man], and when he ends up here, he doesn't know how to deal with the codes and norms of another society. He didn't fit in over there, and he doesn't fit in here. He's in a very dark limbo, but that's not because he's wrong or evil. It's what he was taught. In Cuba, you have to be constantly fighting against the state to survive. You have to ignore the rules and steal. And when someone like Ivan comes here, he thinks the streets are made of cheese, and money grows on trees.''
Ichaso, whose career alternates between Hollywood-friendly fare (Piñero, Sugar Hill, TV's Medium and The Cleaner) and smaller, personal projects like Paraiso, said the idea for the movie coalesced after a series of encounters with recent Cuban exiles the world over, such as the busboy in a posh Berlin eatery who was utterly clueless about proper table service because he had never been in a fine restaurant before.
''The resilience of the Cuban soul is fascinating to me,'' Ichaso said. ``There is a great charm to seeing Ivan struggle to figure out how to act in a proper manner, because he has no idea how things function. He has all these huge dreams, but once he starts trying to attain them, he can't function well because he's so late in life and lacking so much information. He's damaged. It's heartbreaking to hear stories from recent arrivals that display a complete innocence towards so many things we take for granted. You start to realize these people have gone through hell.''
Paraiso argues that Ivan's past life in Cuba -- one that included hustling tourists for sexual favors -- has also corroded his psyche in ways even he doesn't fully comprehend.
''When you've spent your life resolviendo [struggling to make do], there are certain emotions like regret that are set aside and stored, and you don't feel them anymore,'' Ichaso said. ``In that way, Ivan is very much like a psychopath, because he doesn't believe he's done anything wrong other than try to be a good son and protect himself and be a part of something he's never had.''
Ichaso filmed Paraiso on digital video for a tiny budget of $30,000, often shooting on the streets of Miami without permits and relying extensively on the help of friends and family (the attendees to the wedding of his niece, for example, agreed to double as funeral-goers for a scene in the film). The director said his limited resources were a challenge, but they also served as a creative boon.
''That was part of the beauty of it: We had no one to account to, so it was a peaceful, creative process,'' he said. 'From something as simple as the management at Versailles telling us, `Take over the place, and do whatever you want to,' it was a collaborative effort. Cubans are a reminder that hope lasts forever. But to make a movie like this, you have to really love Cuba and have a strong sense of who you are. El Super was a comedy about the tragedy of being completely displaced, and that seemed taboo at the time. Paraiso is a reflection of this new hybrid of Cuban exile, desperate to be part of a world they can barely function in. And it's important to know ourselves a little better -- the good, the bad and the ugly.''
Posted by editor at 3:25 PM