Photo: Courtesy of ICAIC

Manuela, the rebellious face of Cuban film, by director Manuel Jorge, is a documentary dedicated to one of the island’s most renowned actresses, Adela Legrá.
The film, produced by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), is a tribute to this celebrated figure of Cuba’s big screen, who got her big break in 1966 after starring in the iconic film Manuela, by renowned director Humberto Solás (1941-2008).
Regarding the picture, in his column in the daily newspaper Granma, director and film critic Eduardo Manet wrote: “A little over half an hour was enough for Humberto Solás to create the kind of work that defies time. Tomorrow, just as it is today, Manuela will be an uplifting, passionate, and exciting film. As well as a poetic quality, of which it would be unjust to remove even one moment, it also has something else, something not as easy to achieve as it might first seem: a gratifying sense of cubanidad.”
In numerous interviews about her encounter with Solás, Adela explained, “I was in Baracoa picking coffee as a volunteer with the Federation of Cuban Women, and he was looking for a campesina woman, with those particular features we have, to make Manuela. I was a real rebel; people would say that if I fell into a river I’d swim against the current. He made me crawl on the ground, jump fences, climb up trees, he made me laugh and cry.”
She would then go on to star in Lucía in 1968; a film that has frequently been described as one of the most important in the history of Latin American cinema.
The picture centers on the three different stories which take place in the 19th century, 1930s, and early years of the Revolution, featuring three women, all named Lucíaandplayed by Raquel Revuelta, Eslinda Núñez and Adela Legrá Serán, in that order.
Today, Manuela, the rebellious face of Cuban film, invites audiences to become more familiar with Adela: open, strong and passionate.
Born in Valle de Caujerí, the actress grew up in Caimanera, also located in Guantánamo province, and currently lives in the city of Santiago de Cuba. When she made Manuela, at 22 years of age, Adela already had three children; now at 78 she has four, in addition to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The documentary was premiered at the Gibara International Film Festival last April, during which Adela, Eslinda Núñez, and late Raquel Revuelta, were awarded the Lucía Prize, established this year on the proposal of actor Jorge Perugorría, the Festival’s current president.
The well-deserved, if somewhat late coming, documentary, marks important moments in Legrá’s artistic life. It is also Manuel Jorge’s seventh production, who throughout his long career spanning over four decades across different spheres of Cuban film industry, has worked with important directors such as Solás himself, Tomas Gutiérrez Alea, Manuel Octavio Gómez, and Fernando Pérez.
His works include films dedicated to figures such as Candita Batista, Cuba’s so called “Black leading lady;” the unforgettable singer Esther Borja; soprano Maria Eugenia Barrios, composer Enrique Bonnet, and the memorable Moraima Secadas, from the famous group Cuarteto D’Aida.
Speaking to Manuel Jorge, the documentary filmmaker explained for our readers that the idea to make a picture about Legrá emerged in 2014 in Santiago de Cuba, during the Félix B. Caignet Festival. “She was quite upset that her work in Cuban film hasn’t always been appreciated. I personally think that she’s a somewhat forgotten figure in the country’s cinematic landscape, so I promised her I would make a documentary about her.”
Regarding the title of his work, Manuel noted that the name Manuela was important “because it was Adela Legrá’s first lead role as a campesina who didn’t know anything about film.”
He went on to explain that the premiere in Gibara “received lots of encouragement from renowned figures like Benicio del Toro, Imanol Arias, Victoria Abril, and Eslinda Núñez. They were moved by the testimonies about what Adela had done.”
Regarding the structure of the documentary, the filmmaker explained that he opted for a “parallel montage. As I interview Adela I also introduce scenes from her films and interviews with directors, actors, and photographers who have worked with her.”
In his 40-minute film, Manuel Jorge also inadvertently provides the audience with a historical overview of Cuban cinema, starting in 1966 with Adela’s earliest appearance in Solas’ Manuela, after which she went on to star in numerous other productions. The picture also includes interviews with Manuel Mendoza, who worked as the producer on Manuela; directors such as Jorge Fuentes (La gran rebelión); Enrique Pineda (Aquella larga noche), who compared Adela to Anna Magnani; photographers Raúl Rodríguez (Rancheador), Ángel Alderete (La gran rebelión), and Rafael Solís (Barrio Cuba); as well as Sergio Benvenuto, collaborator and nephew of Humberto Solás, who comments on the way in which Humberto and Adela worked together, “very natural, strong, spontaneous, and stirring.”
Actress Isabel Santos, who starred in Miel para Ochún (also by Solás), in which Adela once again assumes her role as Manuela, notes that in the documentary, “There is a before and after with Adela,” while Eslinda Núñez states that “her face wearing that straw hat have made history in Cuban film.”
Adela Legrá will forever be remembered as the Lucía of the Cuban countryside, carrying her hand-towel and wearing that emblematic straw hat. The documentary Manuela, the rebellious face of Cuba film, is a fitting tribute to an actress who has become the one of the most iconic and timeless faces of Cuban cinema.