Adapted from Cirilo Villaverde’s 1882 Cecilia Valdés o La Loma del Ángel, often called the national novel of Cuba, and directed by Humberto Solás in the style of the first part of his tripartite Lucía (1968), Cecilia is a lavish, turbulent, delirious melodrama set in 1830s Havana amidst agitation for independence from Spain. The film is from Cuba and Spain.
It is a Romeo and Juliet-love story, of sorts—but one in which the mulatta heroine’s initial motive is manipulative and complex, and, given her employment of santería, the white colonialist boy doesn’t stand a chance. Their actually being, it turns out, sister and brother is no longer specified in the plot, but it’s still swimming around in there, recurrently suggesting itself and slipping away whenever the boy’s parents react with such hostility to his infatuation with the girl. Here, differences in race and class comingle with at least the perpetual possibility of the darker skeleton in the closet. Moreover, Solás teases us with a two-shot of the young couple where her complexion is only the tiniest bit darker than his: a portrait of affinity rather than stark difference. This is heady stuff.
Indeed, one of the most glorious aspects of this film is its plentitude of two-shots combinately displaying a diversity of skin tones.
The girl is beautiful; the boy, pretty: another point of affinity between them—and one that toys with our eyes in a distancing way, reminding us we are watching a film.
A cautionary story, told aloud in flashback, triggers unexpected allusions to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) involving a church bell tower and, here, a child’s drop/fall/plunge from it: steeped in Catholic stress and symbolism, a stupendous dream image. This is matched by the waking nightmare of the boy’s interrupted wedding ceremony.
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