A feminist, neorealist, communist film and a great ordinary film

Dialectic from opening title to final image, “One Way or Another” – the first and only feature film by Afro-Cuban director Sara Gómez – ...


Dialectic from opening title to final image, “One Way or Another” – the first and only feature film by Afro-Cuban director Sara Gómez – presents itself as “a film about real people and fictional people” . It’s one way to describe this deft mix of cinema verité, ethnographic documentary, feminist social realism and class-conscious revolutionary romance.

“One Way or Another” opens Friday for one week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Restored from its original 16mm, the film is beautiful, and despite its nostalgia for the ideals of the Cuban revolution, it seems as relevant today as it was in 1974.

While “One Way or Another” never had an official US release, it has periodically surfaced in film series, including one at BAM five years ago that focused on black women’s cinema. (Review of this series, to which “One Way or Another” lent its name, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis called him “an always exciting mix of documentary and narrative fiction. »

“One Way or Another” could be described as a love story involving two photogenic young people – a macho worker, Mario (Mario Balmaseda, who was a professional actor), and a schoolteacher, Yolande (Yolanda Cuéllar, who was not not). But he has more in mind.

Mario, a mulatto worker, grew up on the poor streets of Havana’s Miraflores neighborhood; Yolanda, who is white, educated and middle class, has been assigned to teach at an elementary school in Miraflores. Both have problems at work. Mario is implicated in a buddy’s misconduct; Yolanda is repeatedly advised to be more diplomatic in her dealings with her students’ poor parents.

Given their origins, lovers often misunderstand each other. Context is everything. Their most intimate conversation takes place in the “neutral” territory of a tiny Posada, or hotel; their story is interspersed with interludes concerning the history and legacy of slavery – including the African religion Santería and the all-male secret society Abakuá.

Shots of slums and slum clearance provide a metaphor for the creation of a new society and a new consciousness. That the principles come together and fall apart amid a constant play of destruction and construction suggests that their relationship – like the Cuban Revolution – is a perpetual work in progress. However didactic it may be, “One Way or Another” can be taken for socialist realism, but if so, it is a very original and even critical variant. (The “positive hero,” a fashionable axiom, is Afro-Cuban musician and former boxer Guillermo Diaz, who provides a song demystifying traditional gender roles.)

Trained as a musician, Gómez has made around twenty short documentaries. (She was also assistant director on the documentary “Salut les Cubains” by Agnès Varda in 1963 and can be seen dancing the cha-cha in the cinema. conclusion.) “One Way or Another” is so bursting with life and ideas that it is heartbreaking to learn that Gómez died, aged just 31, while editing it – she succumbed to a severe seizure asthma amid complications giving birth to her third child.

Post-production was completed by his colleagues and the film was not screened until 1977. Since then it has been recognized as a monument of feminist, neorealist, communist, Cuban, Latinx, third world and simply world cinema. .

One way or another

July 8-14 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn; bam.org.

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