Sandro Fiorin’s Figa Films has snapped up international sales rights to Pavel Giroud’s “El Caso Padilla,” which, selected for the San Sebastian highly competitive Horizontes Latinos, bids fair to become one of the most notable Latin American doc features of 2022.
Variety has also shared in exclusivity a first trailer to the film.
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The follow-up to Giroud admired 2015 fiction film “El Acompañante,” which won San Sebastian’s Co-Production Forum, “El Caso Padilla” turns on the so-called Padilla Affair. That climaxed with arrest on March 30, 1971 of Heberto Padilla, one of the most exquisite and trenchant of modern Cuban poets whose 1968 poetry collection “Fuera de Juego” constituted a scathing attack on the lack of liberties in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Padilla’s arrest signalled the end of a honeymoon between Europe’s left and Castro’s revolution, prompting a letter published in Le Monde – signed by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Italo Calvino and Mario Vargas Llosa, among others – denouncing a “violent” and “sectarian” trend in Cuba.
Padilla emerged from jail to deliver before fellow members of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) a more than two-hour speech. In it, he accused himself of counter revolutionary slanders and libels towards the Revolution. My [upcoming] novel shames me, my poetry shames me,” he said.
The most stunning coup of “El Caso Padilla,” is to recuperate filmed footage, buried in a Cuban governmental archive for 50 years, of Padilla’s recanting. It is fascinating but grotesque political theater, as a histrionic poet, hitting key beats – his selfishness, smugness and vanity – proves incapable of avoiding contradictions while calling on his dissident friends, including his own wife, writer Belka Cuza Malé, to come to the table and recant with him, which they did, caught in “El Caso Padilla.”
The trailer and movie capture Padilla’s act of repentance. The film goes further, however.
Giroud’s mission, he notes, was “that the material, full of subtleties and hidden revelations in an excessive outpouring of words which are perfectly strung together, was readable for audiences who don’t have a direct reference to the event.”
To do so, he reproduces texts from “Fuera de juego,” which establishes Padilla’s caliber as a poet, such as his capacity for telling self-perception. Giroud quotes observant comments from Latin America’s good and great to explain Padilla’s arrest and public contrition.
“Padilla was neither a traitor nor a martyr,” said Argentine writer Julio Cortázar.
“The self criticism was so out of proportion that it seemed obtained by ignominious methods. I don’t know if Padilla was damaging the revolution but his self-criticism certainly did,” wrote Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Marquez, who, however, stood by Castro.
For decades after the Caso Padilla, writers were either for or against Castro. More nuanced positions were deemed counter-revolutionary. As Giroud shows, Cuban artists and intellectuals are now once more calling for larger freedoms.
“We were blown away by how contemporary the film’s subject is. Freedom of speech has never been more important than nowadays. Pavel is a gifted director and his producer is fearless, we are so proud of them,” said FiGa Films’ Fiorin.
“El Caso Padilla” is produced by Cuba-based Lía Rodríguez (“Four Seasons in Havana,” “El Acompañante”) and another heavyweight Cuban cineaste, screenwriter Alejandro Hernández (“Criminal “The Invisible Line,” “La Fortuna”), based like Giroud out of Spain.
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