Sergio & Serguéi is controversial, as is to be expected from any film by Ernesto Daranas. More controversial than his previous blockbusters, Los dioses rotos and Conducta, but less artistically impressive, perhaps because its generic mixture – ambitious and provocative – fails to achieve a solid overall finish.
Maestro of the best melodrama, always astride of costumbrismo, Daranas has now resorted to tragicomedy to recreate an era with a touch of the fabulous. Emotions and humor in their most diverse forms (including the absurd, the grotesque, with surrealist and caricatured underpinnings, the detective and espionage plot, with a nod to film noir in the scenes set in New York) and, of course, the critical-social aspect concerned with evoking the beginnings of the Special Period, in which not only the protagonists of Sergio & Serguéi were suspended in uncertainty after the collapse of the socialist camp and the Soviet Union.
One will appreciate that so many expressive elements require a tone that is capable of bringing together the prolific narrative, and this is where the enjoyable anecdote of the Soviet cosmonaut abandoned in space fails to receive the best treatment, while at the same time falling into the temptation – as in so many of our films – of wanting to say everything, to cover everything, in a single roll of the dice.
It is a chronicle of a time and its tribulations, of which few would deny the testimonial sincerity, but which in its all-encompassing endeavor can not escape the sense of a series of “aggregate events,” accumulations, some of which are only broadly sketched out and lack convincing dramaturgy, as can be seen in the subplot of the visual arts student who, misunderstood within the raging of those who claim to hold the key to all that is “true art,” vacillates between leaving on a raft or taking a stand. Or the ludicrous surveillance to which the protagonist is subjected, which offers good moments of laughter, but is so oft-repeated that the caricature ends up detracting meaning from the story.
It has already been said that Sergio & Serguéi is the story of a friendship born between a cosmonaut of the former USSR trapped on the Mir space station and a good, decent Cuban, who studied Marxist Philosophy in Russia. A friendship to which is added that of the American, Peter, linked to the Cuban through a previous relationship with his father, who was also a radio ham. The “American” is a rebel, uncovering the shady affairs of his country’s administration, watched by the FBI, or the CIA, or so many others, and who, in a spiel on history that makes clear the mysteries that surround the character, defines himself as anti-communist, an enemy of the Soviet Union.
The political and economic debacle suffered by his nation in the early 1990s results in the space hero being left alone and abandoned, while radio ham Sergio makes contact with him, encourages him to battle through, and at the same time tries to make sense of how what seemed an established world (the world of his convictions) has fallen apart. How can he survive? How can he support his mother and daughter without falling into the “schemes” that he has always condemned?
In its first half, the film is an outpouring of empathy toward the spectator who experienced, or has told his or her children, about those hard times with which he/she is now reacquainted, memories that are recalled from a sentimental/humorous perspective that to a large extent characterizes us, as we know that there are many who – although wanting to forget – could list numerous vicissitudes and means of resistance worthy of appearing in many a film.
In this sense, Daranas’ film transcends its artistic boundaries to become a sociological event linked to tens of thousands of real-life protagonists who, over the years, have become spectators to their own lives.
A spiritual and lyrical empathy of popular style that perhaps foreign audiences will not fully comprehend, more interested in unraveling the abundant historic metaphors related to the political and social moment in which the events take place.
In the second half of the film, the cosmonaut’s difficulties increase and the original story (a Soviet, Cuban and North American embroiled in a nobly bizarre plot) loses track, and even undergoes a certain impasse, on its way to the final happy ending already anticipated by the voice-over of Sergio’s daughter, who narrates the events. Originality and good ideas, which are not lacking, give way to conventional (commercial?) situations aimed, perhaps, at satisfying multiple audiences.
The performances of Cubans Tomás Cao and Héctor Noas stand out, as well as the might of Ron Perlman. The composition of some of the other characters, demonstrates incongruities attributable to the diversity of tones with which the plot is narrated; however, given all that it says and recalls, the film is worthy of being seen and analyzed by our viewers.