The Other Madagascar Movie
The movie Madagascar – no, not the one with cartoon animal characters – is considered by many to be the finest work of the famous Cuban film director Fernando Perez. Despite running for a mere 50 minutes the movie tells the story of family upheavals, of dreams constantly shattered and of a mother watching her daughter growing up in a Cuba that both struggle to accept.
The central character in the story, a weary mother by the name of Laura, tries in vain to create a happy, ‘normal’ upbringing for her daughter Laurita in their humble Havana apartment. As the young girl grows up rapidly she passes through several phases of rebellion, from heavy metal to devout religion and a desire to invite groups of homeless children to live within the family home. It is her insistence on leaving school and running away to Madagascar that gives the movie its name and perhaps strongest image: that of the desire to escape to an island whose name represents an exotic almost mythical place at the other side of the world.
Yet perhaps the story of how the movie was made is as fascinating as the movie itself. Madagascar was produced in the early 1990s, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s major financial sponsor. Until its demise the USSR had supplied the Cuban film industry with the chemicals and materials they needed to stay in business. When this source dried up, Perez and other film makers were left stranded.
The option of shooting a scene and being able to review and edit it became impossible, meaning that all filming was done ‘blind’. Negatives were sent to Venezuela for processing and by the time they were returned, scenes could not be easily be recreated if required. Working to such harsh limitations it is a testament to the skill of Perez as a director that the movie that emerged was one that received such high acclaim.
Travel to Cuba today and you might well recognise many of the images conjured up by Perez in his movie. The movie was shot entirely in and around the capital and many of the streets and buildings have changed little since 1994. Trying to Laura or her idealistic daughter might be a more difficult task. After all, it’s been 18 years since the movie’s release: perhaps they have finally made that journey to Madagascar!
Photo: Libby Norman via Wikimedia Commons
When you travel to Cuba, stay at one of the Iberostar hotels. You might well recognise many of the images conjured up by Perez in his movie.