Seres extravagantes

Seres extravagantes
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Seres extravagantes

Seres extravagantes è un documentario sul processo di emarginazione,
repressione e rimozione subìto dalla comunità gay durante i primi venti anni della rivoluzione cubana, attraverso gli occhi e la voce dello scrittore cubano Reinaldo Arenas. È lui il protagonista del racconto fatto da altri scrittori e artisti che furono parte della sua vita e che furono anche puniti e perseguitati dal regime cubano. Come contrappunto alla biografia
romanzata di Schnabel Before Night Falls, Seres extravagantes
costruisce un’immagine caleidoscopica della vita di Reinaldo e della comunità gay cubana. Testimonianza unica di un periodo e di un artista unici, il film unisce rari materiali d’archivio, tra cui registrazioni della voce dello scrittore, con riprese clandestine della Cuba di oggi. (TGLFF)

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  1. slant magazine

    Recent films from Latin America
    by Ed Gonzalez
    Slant Magazine

    From Cuba comes the powerful Odd People Out, a searing documentary by Manuel Zayas about Reinaldo Arenas and the oppression of gays during the first two decades of Castro’s revolution. Zayas uses homoerotic imagery of young men and campesinos, clandestinely shot interviews with Arenas’s writer friends and family, and archival footage of a vitriolic Castro enraging the masses to fashion a deeply moving, orgiastic examination of the contours of memory and a country held under the spell of an Orwellian form of mind control. (At one point, Zayas cuts from archival footage of Castro condemning authoritarian abuse to a scene in which police officials cut the director’s interview with one of Arena’s friends short.) Arena’s mother, who uses her trembling hands to cover cavernous wrinkles on her face, never understood her son’s need to record his memories. When the film ends with the revelation that Arenas insisted that his work never be published in Cuba until after Castro’s death, you get a profound sense that he was guarding against those memories being erased during his lifetime.

  2. Gay City News

    Tropical Maladies

    New and recent films from Latin America screen at Lincoln Center this month

    By IOANNIS MOOKAS

    Of principal interest for queer audiences is the documentary by 30-year-old director Manuel Zayas, “Seres extravagantes” (literally “outrageous beings,” translated awkwardly here as “Odd People Out”). Taking its title from the endlessly quotable Fidel Castro’s derogation for the queens who used to promenade in Havana’s La Rampa district, “Seres extravagantes” (screened September 16 and 19) revisits the life of gay Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas (1943–1990), popularized by the recent screen adaptation of his memoir “Before Night Falls.”

    The writer’s impoverished childhood, youthful revolutionary exuberance, precocious literary renown, censorship by the state, incarceration, flight in the 1980 Mariel exodus, decline from AIDS, and eventual suicide are of course the raw material of legend. But whereas Julian Schnabel’s bloated hagiography amplified the hyperbolic tone of the memoir, “Seres extravagantes” restores Arenas to us in approachably human dimensions. Remarkably, it does so with a mere handful of images of the writer, instead relying on his voiceover narration, smartly edited from archival sources, to span a series of successively more revelatory interviews with his literary peers and family.

    Made underneath official Cuban radar with Spanish financing, the film opens with Arenas’ uncle Carlos in the boondocks of rustic Oriente province, pointing out the verses that little Reinaldo would carve into the trunks of palm trees. Zayas managed to draft the uncle into searching for Arenas’ long-vanished biological father, José Antonio, providing a loose pursuit structure that alternates with copious archival footage and interviews with other gay Cuban authors suppressed to varying degrees by Castro’s regime.

    The courtly, silver-maned dramatist Antón Arrufat makes a study in contrasts with the poet Delfín Prats, once Arenas’ cruising buddy but today a fretful pauper living in a threadbare shanty. More riveting still are the encounters with the writer’s next of kin. Impish and droll, the actress Ingrid González recalls their marriage of convenience; Uncle Carlos actually does track down the biological father, now a diminished vagrant. Reinaldo’s enfeebled mother Oneida drops the biggest emotional bombshell, reminiscing over her “clever” boy but steadfast in her homophobic rejection of the man.

    With masterful restraint, the live-action footage of Arenas is saved for the final minutes, and after hearing his voice throughout the film it comes as a shock to see him in a silent, melancholy reverie. A closing title noting his 1990 suicide serves to remind us of how profoundly the island has changed since that moment, when the ruinous consequences of the Soviet Union’s disintegration were not yet fully apparent. It is across precisely this distance that “Seres extravagantes” responds to “Before Night Falls,” but in fine dialectical fashion it also refers back to “Improper Conduct,” the 1984 documentary by Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal that started the whole bulla, or ruckus.

    Two decades on, it is harder for us to appreciate the firestorm that once raged over “Improper Conduct,” which featured Arenas among several other prominent exiles denouncing Castro’s appalling UMAP camps where homos, with other “antisocial” elements, were imprisoned from 1965 to 1967. Against the commonplace leftist presumption of a calculus in which some individual freedoms would necessarily be subordinated to collective values because of the scope of the revolutionary enterprise, “Improper Conduct” insisted that Castro’s repressive policies were irreconcilable with enlightened ethics.

    Even in 1984, however, “Improper Conduct” had a curiously time-locked quality, fulminating against bygone tragedies. To be sure, Castro’s Cuba has been, and remains, an inhospitable terrain for gay and lesbian Cubans. Yet the enduring fixation on the UMAP infamy obscures the complicated ways that homosexuals’ fortunes have evolved over the revolution’s 46-year history. Through its nuanced portraits of contemporary gay authors and indeed by its very existence, “Seres extravagantes” attests to a more perplexing 21st-century Cuban reality.

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