Santa y Andrés is a Cuban film written and directed by Carlos Lechuga portraying the blossoming friendship of two individuals who are initially divided by political ties. Andrés, played by Eduardo Martinez, is a gay novelist with anti-Revolutionary views. As shown in the beautiful but tragic lives of historical Cuban writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, René Ariza, and Delfin Prats, homosexuality and counter-Revolutionary ideals are a dangerous, even deadly combination under Cuba’s homophobic government.
Like the real-life writers his story is based on, Andrés struggles with depression, feeling oppressed by Cuban authorities and ostracized from society. He is placed under house arrest in a shack on the rural Cuban hillside, where he spends his days listening to Cuban jazz on his old radio cassette player, writing a book which he keeps hidden, and secretly sleeping with a young local played by Cesar Dominguez. Everything in Andrés’ life is done covertly. The boisterous Cuban jazz that erupts from his radio contrasts strikingly with the oppressively silent way in which Andrés is forced to live his life.
Santa, played by Lola Amores, is an uneducated peasant woman sent by the local Revolutionary party to guard Andrés’ home and keep him under house arrest. She is a stern, quiet woman, initially focused on carrying out her job with no emotional involvement. She is loyal to the party, which causes her to be cold and hard-hearted towards Andrés at first. However, after many boring, long days under the sweltering Cuban sun, even the most different of people can bond in quiet solidarity. After all, both protagonists are troubled, lonely spirits whose hunger for human companionship inevitably brings them closer together.
Santa undergoes a spiritual and emotional transformation, questioning her own ideals and sympathizing with Andrés’ struggle. In a symbolic scene where she strips the party uniform from her body, opting instead to wear a bright red dress, she demonstrates a newfound understanding for the plight of the Cuban people forced to live without a voice under the government. In a general sense, Santa y Andrés explores not only the strange relationship between two victims of Castro’s rule, but also touches on themes such as the struggle for human connection, personal freedom under political oppression, gender and sexuality, and the way in which close human ties can be severed by politics.
Due to the deeply personal and political nature of the film, it is easy to see how this film might harbor controversy. As a testament to its unflinching honesty, Santa y Andrés has been removed from the Havana Film Festival in New York, taking place from March 30-April 7th. The film was pulled from the competition after the ICAIC, Cuba’s state run film institute, pressured the directors of the festival to censor the film. As quoted from a public letter by Roberto Smith, director of the ICAIC: “[Santa y Andrés] presents an image of the Revolution that reduces it to an expression of intolerance and violence against culture, makes irresponsible use of our patriotic symbols, and unacceptable references to comrade Fidel.”
This is not the only time Carlos Lechuga’s work has been censored from the public. At the Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana in December of 2016, the film was removed completely and banned by the ICAIC. Carole Rosenberg, director of the Havana Film Festival, maintains that the festival’s position to remove Santa y Andrés from the competition was not based on pressure from the ICAIC, but rather stems from the organization’s desire to avoid political conflict.
Cuban critics and intellectuals, however, aren’t convinced by Rosenberg’s passive stance. It is the belief of many festival goers that the film’s censorship offends the artistic freedom sought by writers escaping Cuba for America. In the words of Lechuga to the Miami Herald: “I, Carlos Diaz Lechuga, love Cuba, smoke tobacco, I like the beach and I have traveled the world. I do not need to go through this type of treatment, now I’m going to continue to defend my film and accompany it wherever I can.”
Much like the Cuban jazz music exploding from Andrés’ radio, art births color and hope into every environment, even into those societies under the burdensome fist of dictatorship. When the world seems grey and stripped of all passion, art is the brave dove that delivers light and energy, inspiring people to fight, to rise, and to give voice to their discontent. Music and film connects all cultures, lending humanity to those in inhumane situations, and building bridges instead of walls.