RIGOBERTO López returns to the big screen with his second feature length film, Vuelos prohibidos, which he considers an “intimate and reflective” portrayal of Cuba and its essence.

Paulo FG (left), Rigoberto López (center) and Sanâa Alaoui (right) after the press conference in Havana. Photo: Roberto Bello

The story he tells is as follows: Monique, a Parisian women of about 35 years of age, who has a Cuban father she does not know, meets Mario - at the airport on her way to Havana. He is a 50 year old Cuban waiting for the same flight. The trip, however, is delayed due to an unexpected storm in the Caribbean. That night in a hotel room, Monique and Mario become lovers and share their visions of Cuba, wrought with confessions and strong feelings.

The title of the film alludes to this initial canceling of the flight, perhaps provocatively, but no doubt commercially attractive. 

In fact, Julio Carranza, economist and university professor turned co-scriptwriter of the film, preferred prohibited to canceled, explaining, “I accepted it from the beginning, since it represents the story of miscommunication, and we were looking for the idea of rupture and re-encounter.”

The film was produced by the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), with the collaboration of the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Culture, and its Global Fund for Democracy and Development.

The cast is led by Cuban singer Paulo FG, who, after a long, successful career in music, is making his debut in film.

During a press conference at the Centro Fresa y chocolate, the well known salsero said that the opportunity was something entirely new for him, adding, “When I accepted, I didn’t really understand what an actor’s work was, becoming a character. It’s been a marvelous experience.”

Although Paulo FG’s extensive artistic career has included innumerable music videos, he said, perhaps joking, “This is my first film, and I hope it’s my last.” Whatever he decides, we can quote from his 2002 CD, “I wish you luck.”

(Te deseo suerte)

The leading actress, Sanâa Alaoui from France, commented that the greatest challenge she faced was speaking for long sections of the film in Spanish, a language she learned in just two months, but added, “Rigoberto gave me confidence. He knows exactly what he wants. And he has taste and incredible sensitivity.”

She recalled that when the director spoke about the film, he expressed his desire to pay tribute to the classic Hiroshima mon amour, and this,Alaoui said, “immediately captivated me, and helped me understand the script.”

Discussing other characters, Rigoberto López emphasized, “It was my great fortune to have the participation of Daysi Granados, Mario Balmaseda and Manuel Porto in special performances,” an assertion many would second since, in just three scenes, these icons of Cuban film pull out all stops in secondary roles.

Moreover, Mario and Daysi, both with long, outstanding careers, had paradoxically never worked together.

The director of the prizewinning documentary Yo soy del son a la salsa and promoter of Caribbean film, answered a few questions for Granma International after the press conference.

Twelve years since Roble de olor (2003), how does this feel to a filmmaker?

It’s sad. Not that I have lacked stories I would have liked to make – it’s that the right circumstances didn’t come along. Concretely, this project, something very different from a period film like Roble... the only thing they have in common is that the two attempt to discuss our reality. Roble… was more allegorical, Vuelos… more direct with respect to contemporary reality. I’ve been trying to do it for a long time. Over the last few years, I have also devoted myself to helping Caribbean film acquire more visibility, and the Dominican Republic is working along these lines as well. Leonel Fernández, president of the Global Fund for Democracy and Development, offered me his collaboration, and with a little financing, I was able to film in Paris, with 11 people.

You emphasized the word ‘challenges’ in your exchange with the press, could you say more about these.

Shooting in both Paris and Havana. Filming for 17 days in Charles de Gaulle Airport, in its Terminal 2, I can’t tell you what it takes to film one hour there, and at the Eiffel Tower Novo Hotel in Paris. Lots of tension, with the work, the actors, positioning the cameras. Another challenge: taking reflections, concepts, ideas to the language of film, without being academic, that it be a love story and discuss problems. I wanted power of suggestion, a poetic air, that it not be a project of pedestrian realism. The possibility of provoking reflection needed to be there, not only to dialogue with the Cuban audience, but audiences outside of Cuba. You know how much speculation about Cuba there is, how many doubts, how many questions, how many mistakes, how much curiosity there is about Cuba’s reality today. I believe that it is our responsibility to respond to this appropriately, without stereotypes. Among the challenges we faced, one which stood out was filming a storyline which was based on dialogue between two actors, one of them without professional experience.

Your two feature length films have been love stories…

I once had the opportunity to converse with Sidney Pollack (director of Tootsie, Out of Africa, among others) and I asked him why his movies were frequently based on a romance, and he answered me simply, “You think there’s anything more political than a love story?”

I made a reference to Hiroshima mon amour, the classic among classics by Alain Resnais, (Cannes Palme d’Or, 1959) and in fact the thematic similarities with this masterful work are many: two actors, a limited setting, an intense encounter between two people with different origins and cultures, directed toward reflection…

I believe we must return to more personalized film, what stays with me as a filmmaker is the French New Wave, Italian neorealism, as references which come to me unconsciously.

There is an almost direct quote from the script by Marguerite Duras, when the Japanese man (Eiji Okada) says to the French woman (Emmanuelle Riva), “You’ve seen nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.” Just as when Mario, the journalist played by Paulo FG, says to Monique, “What do you know about Havana, if you’ve seen nothing, nothing?”

The music gives the film depth, context. It is truly extraordinary.

It is by the experienced Miguel Núñez, musical director for Pablo Milanés’ group, Miguelito, as we call him affectionately, an excellent pianist, composer and arranger.

MIguel Núñez spoke with GI for himself.

I composed a truly excessive amount of music given what was needed for the film, so later Rigoberto and I had to choose what matched the images best.

Is it fusion?

I thought of it with a more French influence, more melodic, perhaps less rhythm. I concentrated on the changes and modulations like Michel Legrand did. I took up the theme from the very beginning and went about modulating, modulating it, as he did in Young Girls of Rochefort and Umbrellas of Cherbourg (both by Jacques Demy). In reality it is a very simple theme, but underneath you are going to notice it has a Cuban influence, not as marked as more classic orchestrations - more violins, less percussion.

Vuelos prohibidos, a film which takes risks and challenged its director, Rigoberto López, who wanted to move away from the genres of comedy and farce to address Cuba’s current reality.

The premiere took place March 25 at Havana’s Chaplin Theater, as part of celebrations underway to commemorate the 56th anniversary of Cuba’s Film Institute, ICAIC.