“Santa and Andrés”
In Castro’s Cuba
Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga’s odd-couple political drama, “Santa and Andres” looks at the emotional effects of life under Fidel.
A novelist under house arrest and his house guard are the odd couple at the heart of the film that is a rural drama about two supposed enemies who find they have more in common than either could have thought. The film is low-key and respectful look at on an idea that could too easily have become melodramatic. The story is about two unwilling outsiders struggling to live a life that the system has stolen from them.
In 1983, Andres (Eduardo Martínez) is living in a run-down hillside hut, having been banished there by the Cuban authorities as punishment for his counter-revolutionary views. Santa (Lola Amores) has been sent by local party representative Jesus (George Abreu) to watch over Andres while a “peace forum” takes place nearby. This is a situation that is very strange. At night, Andres spends his time writing a book that he keeps hidden in the toilet (cue jokes about “smashing the cistern”) and having sex with a mute local kid (Cesar Dominguez), who he pretends to Santa is his nephew. We learn that Santa and Jesus once had a brief fling, but after Jesus let her know that that they were not anywhere, Santa’s attitude to Andres changes. Then after the writer is beaten up by his lover, Santa tends to his wounds, saves his life, and after that, their relationship begins to change in interesting and thought-provoking ways. Granted the situation is absurd yet the movie shows how politics gets into people’s heads and damages the relationships between them, even when they are far away from the political center: Even in this remote location, everyone lives according to party lines. We also see the progress that Cuban independent cinema has made of late. Lechuga’s screenplay keeps the focus on the quiet human drama as both characters struggle internally with the system’s effects on them. We see that the system reflected here brutish, thoughtlessly automated, somewhat pathetic and clearly in decline, one from which any noble ideals it may once have had.
Andres is a deeply troubled man whose life has been taken from him. He is a double victim of his culture being both homosexual and a counter-revolutionary. His real life is lived in hiding, and the haunted expression in his eyes lets us really see that. Martinez plays him as a ghost of a man who is already hardened when we meet him here.
Santa is a country girl with little understanding about how she got into this position in the first place, and whose only understanding of Andres’ situation is that he’s written books that Jesus doesn’t like. In a system that sees her as little more than a means to a political end, we see that she is lonely and driven by a powerful need for companionship. When Santa sheds her uniform she also sheds her stern expression. Letting down her hair and wearing a red dress, she becomes both magnificent and pathetic.
Music plays a crucial role throughout— Cuban jazz is heard from Andres’ radio cassette player and it is completely at odds with the rural silence. Indeed, music throughout brings a passion and sensitivity to a world that has largely been stripped of these qualities.
Prisoner and guard make an odd couple, and initially are very hostile to each other. Because Santa is a loyal member of the party, we understand how Andres feels. Andres has nighttime visits from a young mute man (Cesar Domínguez) who hustles what he can from Andrés after they have sex. Santa comes across him early one morning and Andrés tries to pass him off as his nephew, but on her return visit when she discovers that Andrés has been beaten and in need of hospitalization and this makes her realize that there is no nephew.
Santa and Andrés are a pair of loners who have both suffered under the repressive regime, although she would never admit it. Their loneliness brings them closer together, and even though it is not on the intimate footing that Santa so badly wants, she becomes close enough to him to abandon her party loyalty when suddenly he is again in deep trouble again with the authorities. Even having robbed of his life and living in constant fear does not deter his the spirit of man who is determined to find a way to be true to himself on every level. Santa is a docile loyal party member who starts to realize the possibility of actually finding some companionship to make her happy.
Director Lechuga has his two protagonists gradually bloom in their roles as the story progresses. If we try to compare this story to what is going on today in Cuba, we understand that not much has changed. In fact, this film has been banned on the island.