The Cuban film that runs at the Oscars, a true story that has changed a man and a nation


It is a story that very few people know, a story that has its roots in the Cuba of the late 1980s, when the iron curtain was crumbling, the Berlin wall fell under the picks of the protesters and the Republic of Fidel simultaneously experienced a great act generosity and a moment of profound crisis. In 1989 it is set A traductor, the film of the Cuban brothers Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso who, on their debut behind the camera, told the story of their father, a professor of Russian literature at the University of Havana who suddenly sees his course closed and is summoned to the hospital, where he and other colleagues of his will be forced to act as translator for Chernobyl patients who have come to Cuba to cure themselves of the consequences of the radiations suffered. An experience that will undermine his relationship with his wife, with his little son, with his country. The professor is interpreted by Rodrigo Santoro (300, Che, Be-Hur).

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A traductor is one of the nine films in competition at the Tertio Millennio Film Festival, a festival of interreligious and intercultural dialogue between the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist communities wanted 23 years ago by Pope John Paul II. The film was chosen by Cuba for the Oscar race for best foreign film. A story that very few know but that has a great impact: more than 25,000 victims of Chernobyl were treated in Cuba and the program, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, continued until 2011. We interviewed the Barriuso brothers.

The film tells the story of your father, to what extent is it true and how much is it romanticized?
"A Traductor it is based on the story of our father, Manuel Barriuso, but we prefer not to see it as a film about him. We were fortunate to have this story in our family and to be able to touch deeply personal questions, but we think the film goes beyond that immediate connection. It tells the story of a man who had a purpose, the story of a country in crisis that has to face unprecedented circumstances and the loss of a lifestyle. We tried to keep the film's story as close as possible to real events, but we imagined some elements to make the story more engaging and cinematic. For example, although the real events took place in 1988, we decided to set the film in 1989 to take advantage of the fall of the Berlin wall, which caused the economic crisis in Cuba known as The Special Period ".

The Cuban film that runs at the Oscars, a true story that has changed a man and a nation

The directors Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso

How old were you at the time of the film's events? What do you remember directly and what comes instead from the fruit of your father's stories?
"We were 1 and 4. Sebastian remembers the parade to welcome Mikhail Gorbachev in April 1989, the time when food was scarce, our father was tired and overworked because of the long nights in hospital. Rodrigo does not remember none of the events in the film, because he was too young. The film is mainly based on our father's memories of that period. Most of the characters and events taking place in the hospital were inspired by his reports. "

What is your relationship with Cuba, how long have you lived there and how has the country changed from the facts you told in the film?
"We lived in Havana until 2006, when we moved to Toronto. However, we remain very connected to Cuba, we go there often and work on the island. Cuba is a country where nothing and everything changes at the same time. Since we shot the film in January and February 2016, we have witnessed the emergence of small private companies that are slowly reshaping the Cuban economy, and important steps have been taken towards legalizing independent production companies in the film industry. have been operating in the country for years without legal status ".

What was it like shooting in Cuba?
"Making the film in Cuba was nice but also a challenge, as often happens in film productions, regardless of where they are shot. Cuba poses unique challenges, but at the same time compensates with a magical light and incredible technical skill, passion and dedication of the local crews. It was a process we have treasured and we can't wait to repeat ".

This is your first movie. How did you work together on the set?
"We believe that cinema is a collective art form by its very nature. We have been working on the development of the film for over three years and during this time we have had countless opportunities to discuss how we wanted to shoot, the kind of interpretation we wanted to get from the actors, mood, tone, etc. The magic obviously takes place on the set and the collaboration with our collaborators has enriched the process ".

The Cuban film that runs at the Oscars, a true story that has changed a man and a nation

Let's talk about Rodrigo Santoro. How did the collaboration with him come about?
"We knew Rodrigo Santoro's work very well, but we didn't know him personally. At first he was hesitant because he was working hard and his wife was pregnant; he had doubts about the idea of ​​working on a film about sick children, but his connection with the story he was so genuine that he decided to do it. Santoro is an incredibly generous actor who has fully embraced our vision. At the same time, he has brought a deep and well-studied understanding of his character. His approach has enriched the process of Malin's creation, the film in general and our experience as directors for the first time. Born in Brazil, he had to hone his Spanish skills and learn a Cuban accent, but what impressed us is that in the two months of preparation of the film he learned Russian with the help of a native speaker ".

You have worked with many children, you had to tell a dramatic story. How did you do?
"It's a different approach. You can't let children know the extent of what they are doing because it could be traumatic. Instead, we built a lot of scenes around the games, activities they could refer to, and we silently moved the camera around them. The director of photography, Miguel Littin-Menz, had worked with children in the past and was very patient, so he got those magical moments that happen when no one is watching.With older children like Nikita Semenov, we have done more work and traditional preparation Genadijs Dolganovs, who plays his father, is his acting coach and their pre-existing relationship has been very useful to us ".

The film is set 30 years ago, we see Malin watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV. How did that atmosphere affect life in Cuba at that time?
"The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union marked the beginning of Cuba's deepest economic crisis in modern times. Without the support of its vital ally, the communist bloc of Eastern Europe, Cuba is left alone to reinvent its economic model. It has had a profound impact on Cuban families, as they have had to adapt to a new reality and many have left the country in search of better living conditions. "

Your film was chosen by Cuba to race for the best foreign film at the Oscars. What effect does it have on you?
"It is an incredible honor for us not only as filmmakers, but also as Cubans, to be able to represent our country. The fact that Cuba presented an independently produced film, made by directors who reside mainly outside Cuba, who speaks of the role that young generations of filmmakers, especially those living in the diaspora, can play in promoting Cuban culture outside the island … Being in this position with our debut film is an honor and a privilege that we do not give for granted. "

Your father today lives in Italy as a professor. How did that experience change your life?
"We think that this experience has made him much more aware of the fragility of the self-defense mechanisms we create around us. He was thrown into an unprecedented circumstance that changed his daily life and the way he perceived the relationship between life and death. a professor of literature, what was a philosophical concept suddenly became a tangible reality, a matter of daily life, since he saw many children lose the battle against cancer caused by exposure to radiation.At the same time, he learned about humanism , mutual support and the incredible value that small actions can bring in. Time spent with children, their parents and medical staff may not have lasted more than a few months, but left a deep mark that continues to resonate until to date".

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