This 2014 feature from Cuba is a first-timer for directors Irene Gutierrez Torres and Javier Labrador. Ostensibly a documentary, it presents the story of Jorge de los Rios Vega.
Vega continues to reside (if you could call it “residing”) in the once grand, but now derelict, eponymous hotel. Squatting with him are Josephina, with whom he has a romantic relationship, her daughter Vivian, and a troubled young man, Waldo.
This piece is beautifully observed, and allows the camera to gently unfold the story in a seemingly organic way. However, it becomes obvious, both from the style of dialogue, and from the fact that there are credits for screenplay, that this is, at least to some extent, scripted. It is as though Torres and Labrador have found these real people and then asked them to perform as characters based on themselves. And that is why, as an audience, we sit uncomfortably in an emotional half-light. The scripting itself is exquisite, particularly in the raw and tender scenes between Jorge and Josephina. However, the fact that we are unsure if this is “fly-on-the-wall” or down-home method-acting, leaves us unable to connect. This discomfort also renders the ending unsatisfying, as it just feels too glib. Hints at Jorge’s past: family; a military career, become lost in the dichotomy of fact/fiction.
Visually, this is a delight, and it is easy to see why it has won several, international awards. The directors have worked mostly with available light, and have used a static camera throughout, allowing action to move in and out of frame. But again, we don’t know whether this is scripted or natural.
Appearing alongside his human co-stars is Jorge’s dog, Pataban, who, in the annoying way animals have, almost steals the show.
Sadly, Jorge died not long after filming completed.
This is a simple and yet complex piece of work, which certainly has its rewards for the viewer. However, I found myself left wanting: wanting to know the “real” story; wanting to know how much was scripted; wanting to know the motivation behind making this particular feature, in this particular way.
If you can stand being emotionally ambivalent for an hour, then you will be able to allow the beauty of this film to wash over you.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 8