“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy doing other things.” — John Lennon
Resplendent with symbolism, allegory, myth and magic realism, Fernando Pérez’s La vida es silbar begins with a woman named Cuba who takes in orphans only to abandon them. Robust, flamboyant imagery and delicate charm effortlessly combine as Bebé, one of Cuba’s orphans—once a problem child for whistling in school rather than speaking—and a projection of Santa Barbara, humanity’s protector from thunder, lightning and other dangers, and of Chango, the African ruler of thunder and lightning, now 18, lords over Havana, which in her gigantic gaze is a toy-sized model of reality, conjuring the fates of three separate lives that ultimately bring them to the Plaza de la Revoluciòn at the same appointed time on the same day.
Mariana, Julia and Elpidio are grown orphans. Each needs a happy resolution, each coping with some sense of lovelessness due to Mother Cuba’s abandonment. It is Bebé’s ambition to share with them what she says is her happiness. How do we reconcile then this claim and Bebé’s sullen appearance? By transcending chronology and looking through the other end of the emotional telescope. The happiness of her sister and brother orphans will be Bebé’s happiness.
Ballerina Mariana intends to deny herself sex and romance permanently, asking God for the lead in a production of Giselle as reward; hospital-worker Julia gets ill even at the mention of sex; libidinous musician Elpidio’s capacity for love has been crippled by his inability to let go of heartache over his maternal abandonment.
Pérez’s film projects the delicious sense of a passing storm. It celebrates life, Cuba and freedom, and is wise in the ways that we collaborate with circumstance to limit our experience of the last of these.
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