American Purgatory

A curiosity in the verite field, this docu was lensed using a camera held within a bag while director Rafael Oller carried out interviews with Cuban refugees interned at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, on the east end of Cuba. Aim of maximum candor is realized, but at the expense of a desirable visual control. Despite innate interest of the material, prospects in any market are extremely limited.

A curiosity in the [7mverite[22;27m field, this docu was lensed using a camera held within a bag while director Rafael Oller carried out interviews with Cuban refugees interned at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, on the east end of Cuba. Aim of maximum candor is realized, but at the expense of a desirable visual control. Despite innate interest of the material, prospects in any market are extremely limited.

Ultimately, the secretive filming technique defeats the film, in that experiences are told but not shown. Though individuals included were exposed to storms at sea, sharks, brutal sun and capture by U.S. naval forces before internment at Guantanamo, the film is so heavy with talk that it becomes tedious.

Still, there is drama in the expressed attitudes of the subjects. Their memories of agonies are intense, their recollections of life in Cuba no less bitter. And now these largely middle-class Cubans experience yet another form of incarceration on top of the one they hoped to escape. The Cubans’ esteem for musical accomplishment is demostrated when a young girl plays a melancholy theme from “Swan Lake” and creates a hush. Later, upon their arrival in Miami, two young girls play “The Star-Spangled Banner” in dazed realization of their dreams. Another escapee from Guantanamo gets to Miami, where, alone in a cheap hotel room, he celebrates with whiskey and a meal from McDonald’s — “My best meal ever!”

Poor film stock, excessive talk, all of it translated into English by an interpreter over an audible Spanish track, and the inescapable problems of filming secretly make this a futile exercise. The valuable material within it would have been better served in print rather than in the film medium.

American Purgatory

Production: 90 DAYS BEHIND THE WIRE OF GUANTANAMO USNB (DOCUMENTARY) A Ninety Miles Film Co. production. Produced, directed by Rafael Oller.

Crew: Camera (color), Oller, Jorge Diaz Amador, Osvaldo Silvera; editors, Silvera, Vietor Otero; sound, Sebastian Krys; associate producer, Liz Balmaseda. Reviewed at Denver Film Festival, Oct. 11, 1995, Running time: 90 MIN.

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