Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 20th 2017 Contents Historias del Canal, 2014, Panama, 1 hr 46 mins
Drama directed by Carolina Borrero (1913), Pinky Mon
(1950), Luis Franco Brantley (1964), Abner Benaim
(1977), and Pituga Ortega-Heilbron (2013).
The film Panama Canal Stories tells five
separate but related tales in an ambitious
film collation about Afro-Jamaican and other
workers who laboured hard in the dangerous,
sometimes deathly task of building the Pan-
The script is based on the recovery of a true story
of a Jamaican family who worked on the Canal. Along
the way we get glimpses of Canal Zone white-Amer-
ican expat life, colourful Panama working class life
outside of this Zone, mixed identities of those who
straddle these worlds, and scenes of native resent-
ment at what is perceived as neocolonial occupation
(even though the Americans were paying for the
Panama Canal construction during this period).
Not all the pieces work well. Some are marred
by poor, wooden acting and cardboard characters
rendered (unintentionally) unsympathetic due to
the brevity of time the writer/cinematographer has
to develop them. Yet there are short, convincing
scenes scattered throughout the work, too --- such
as the carefree scenes of brazen Panamanian boys
playing in the streets and by the riverside, or the
intimacy of two sisters marvelling over the beauty
of a white lacy wedding gown, a treasured gift from
their Jamaican mother.
Taken all together, the five pieces tell an important
story that was never told before this film was made:
the story of the many lives impacted by the huge
engineering feat of the Panama Canal construc-
tion. Each of the five different Panamanian directors
tell one (of many) human truths about some of the
people brought together (and sometimes divided)
by this massive project.
The first episode, set in 1913, has beautiful set
and costume design. Race and class prejudice of a
white boss towards black workers is shown. But the
romance portrayed between the Jamaican couple,
Clarise and Philip, feels more like a charcoal sketch
than an immersive experience.
The second piece, set in 1950, shows a slice of
life from the "gringo" side, and has interesting ex-
changes between the Panamanian housekeeper and
the little boy Jake. Jake's mixed cultural identity -- a
white boy who grows up and limes with the locals
-- feels convincing, though his mother does not,
because of her bad acting.
The third episode, set in 1964, gets more political,
with citizen protests, cries of "Yankee go home"
a brief physical affair between two young people
on different sides of the "Zone"
. This will be edu-
cational for many T&T people unfamiliar with this
fairly recent part of Panama's history.
The fourth episode, set in 1977, plays on the idea of
the cold war, with an aspiring revolutionary, Silverio,
acting as taxi driver for two US State Department
executives during the negotiation of the Torri-
jos-Carter Treaty, while secretly taping their talk
in his car. Parts of this are social commentary, and
parts are comic, as Silverio's revolutionary "Com-
mander" pops up in surprising places -- including
a toilet stall.
The fifth episode, set in 2013, is about Clarisse
Jones, a modern-day jazz singer in America who re-
discovers her family ancestry (and her singing voice)
through a trip to Panama to meet barely-known
relatives there. She learns about the bravery of her
great grandmother, the original Clarice Thompson,
though an old box of letters. This story works, but
to this viewer, the portrayals in this section felt a
bit corny and anticlimactic. SA
guardian.co.tt Thursday, April 20, 2017
n From Page B1
Larita (Laura De la Uz ) with her boyfriend Victor (Raul Paz) in the 1990
Cuban film Hello Hemmingway.
FOR APRIL 20
TIME: 12.30 pm
VENUE: Film Unit, UWI
Vinicius - Documenatry · 2005 · 124
mins · Brazil. Director: Niguel Faria.
Vinicius uses a collage of rarely
seen images, poetic analyses and
interviews to create an enticing
TIME: 2.45 pm
The Zone (La zona) - Drama/
Thriller · 2007 · 97 mins · Mexico/
Spain/Argentina. Director: Rodrigo
Plá. Rating: 18 +.
The supposed peace of this gated
community, somewhere in Mexico
protected by a strong security is
disrupted by the arrrival of three
TIME: 5.30 pm
City in Red (Ciudad en rojo) - Drama
· 2009 · 90 mins · Cuba. Director:
Rebeca Chávez. Rating: 12+.
A thrilling reflection on violence from
the perspective of those not given
to violence but who when violence is
imposed must fight back.
A scene from the film Panama Canal Stories.
FILM REVIEW: HELLO HEMMINGWAY
A little film with a big heart
1990, Cuba, 84 mins; drama directed by Fernando Perez
This Cuban drama set in a 1956 village just outside Havana takes
us into the home and dreams of teenage Larita (played wonderfully
by Laura de la Uz), a lively, imaginative girl who hopes to study
abroad despite her family's poverty. Her family's genial mockery
of her dream to study Philosophy and Arts doesn't faze her at all,
as she covers her walls with photos of Elvis Presley, Tony Curtis
and Ernest Hemmingway.
Larita lives with her aunt, uncle, granny and cousin in a poor
but close-knit home in pre-revolutionary Cuba, in the last years
of Fulgencio Batista's rule. The famous American writer Ernest
Hemmingway lives nearby in a white mansion, but his world is
so separate from theirs that they never talk to him. As he drives
by in a chauffeured car, they struggle to put food on the table. Yet
there is no resentment; rather, Larita dreams of one day living a
life like Hemmingway, and she works hard in high school to win a
scholarship to study in America to better herself, encouraged by
her biggest fan, her grandmother.
It's fun seeing the teenage innocence, cheeky jokes and laughter
between Larita and her bubbly, confident cousin in the early scenes
of the film. The women in this family keep it together, laughing,
cooking (even if it's just rice and beans), and doing humble jobs,
despite harsh circumstances, which later include the suffering of
the breadwinner uncle, who loses his job and starts to fall apart
in drunken despair.
There's a teenage love story woven through here, too, as well as
student demonstrations foreshadowing the later revolt against
Batista. But the movie is not so much (overtly) political as personal.
As Larita reads Hemmingway's story Old Man and the Sea, the
simple, eloquent story of an old man battling tremendous odds
to catch his fish becomes symbolic of Larita's own struggles for a
higher education and a better life. She finds increasing meaning
in the enduring lines of the story as a way of reflecting on her
The director Fernando Perez beautifully interweaves complex
moods in this charming yet sad portrayal of personal and social
upheaval. It is a little film with a big heart, and it becomes a good
character piece as well as a symbolic reflection on unfair oppor-
tunities and making one's bittersweet peace with fate. SA
FILM REVIEW: HISTORIAS DEL CANAL
Panama Canal stories both connect and divide
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