Film Reaction: Guantanamera (1995) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio
The film’s title references a range of ideas about the nature of personal and political revolutions. A guantanamera is “a girl from Guantanamo.” Aunt Yoyita is a famous singer who returns to Guantanamo, Cuba for a hometown celebration of her accomplishments. Her arrival at the airport begins the film and her death is the catalyst for the journey the film's remaining characters take, including the transformation of Georgina, her niece and namesake.
Guantanamera is also the title of Cuba’s most famous folk song and unofficial national anthem. The most popular and patriotic version of the song contains lines from Jose Marti’s poem, Versos Sencillos. As scholar Carlos Ripoll reports, Marti is considered Cuba’s national hero and one of Latin America’s greatest writers. His writings often critiqued political dogma and tyranny and advocated for the dignity of the human spirit, freedom and the forming of bonds of solidarity (Ripoll, par. 1-3).
This is best expressed through the song’s inclusion of his verse, “With the poor of the earth, I want to cast my fate.” Marti’s sentiment is even more poignant when the film is contextualized as a portrait of the nation during its “Special Period” of history, when the collapse of Cuba’s main supporter, the Soviet Union, resulted in increased economic hardships and raised doubts about the success of Cuba’s own socialist revolution (Grant).
by Celia Cruz & The Fania All Stars -Zaire, Africa 1974
Another interpretation of the song expresses a yearning for connection through the recovery of a lost love. Singer Celia Cruz performed its most popular version. In the film, Candido never pursued his dream to perform in a major orchestra, delayed visiting Havana and waited for over 50 years to be reunited with his beloved Yoyita. His character represents how stasis harms individuals personally and his character counsels Georgina and Mariano to liberate themselves from their circumstances and take advantage of the present moment to express their love for each other.
Guantanamera by Pete Seeger
Many artists in Cuba and around the world have covered the song and changed some of its lyrics to address a range of personal and political situations. The film participates in this tradition by using their version to comment on the plot and the character’s emotional states as well as serve as a transition between scenes. The song can also serve as reminder for viewers to maintain an awareness of how the spirit of revolution remains vital to the Cuban nation.
Alea also uses Yourba religion to provide insight into the film’s themes. He includes Iku (the Yoruban mythological figure for death) as a character that foreshadows the physical and ideological deaths of Candido and Adolfo. Alea also interrupts the film’s main narrative to re-tell a story about Iku’s origins and the god’s role in destroying stasis by ending the immortal lifespan of humans.
As the scholar Solimar Otero asserts, “The reinterpretation of Yoruba mythology as Cuban political commentary challenges understandings of nation and cultural agency vis- a-vis African tradition” (6). This dramatically expresses the film’s perspective that the cyclical deaths of outdated ideas and actions ensure the continued development and realization of revolutionary and humane ideals.
Cruz, Celia. “Guantanamera”. Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa. Rmm Records, 2000.
Grant, Barry Keith. Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. New York: Schirmer Books, 2006.
Otero, Solimar. "Ikú and Cuban Nationhood: Yoruba Mythology in the Film 'Guantanamera'." African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania. 2 Oct. 1998. 18 Apr. 2009 <http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Workshop/solima98.html>.
Ripoll, Carlos. "Jose Marti." Florida International University. 19 Apr. 2009 <http://www.fiu.edu/~fcf/jmarti.html>.