“If I am here free now, it is because of the generosity of our revolution.” On April 27, 1971, after 38 days detained by the government of Fidel Castro, Heberto Padilla sang a forced, sonorous and pathetic “mea culpa” in front of his fellow Cuban intellectuals. For years, of that so-called ‘Self-criticism’, only a few fragments were preserved in poor condition, but ‘El caso Padilla’ has managed to put it all together, turning it not only into a magnificent dialogue with the present but in an essential documentary piece to understand the 20th century.
There is the truth… and the truth
There were many ways to present ‘The Padilla Case’, but its director, Pavel Giroud, has opted for show, as is, what happened, using the actual images. There are no after-the-fact statements talking about the legacy of that night, value judgments or recreations with actors: almost the entire film presents a man speaking into a microphone and trying to convince (his peers, but above all himself) that that He has made a mistake by going against the powerful.
That’s all it takes to get creepy: a person clearly aware that he is lying non-stop for four hours (edited into 75 minutes to make them digestible) in which he does not hesitate to put himself in the center of the target in the most crude way possible. Padilla positions himself as someone who was wrong for having an opinion different from what his leaders wanted: his intelligence and verbiage make his self-inflicted humiliation all the more painful to watch.
throughout the footage we will see Padilla deny time and time again the greatest, extolling the virtues of the Cuban revolution and even targeting some of his fellow counterrevolutionaries as a vulgar whistleblower. And what the Castro government probably considered a success actually it became one of his biggest media embarrassments. The manipulation is so obvious and the fear is so loud that Heberto Padilla, even without ever breaking down, became an emblem of the Cuban resistance.
cinema and history
‘The Padilla case’ travels in a more than dignified way in the border between film and historical document, without ever ceasing to be both. The montage turns it into a narrative work that exposes the facts and is divided, somehow within the continuous soliloquy, into three acts, but the recovery of the complete speech after fifty years lost or unrestored is a milestone for historians.
The movie doesn’t care what you think of Fidel Castro’s regime. Not even if you think it was a legitimate government or a dictatorship. That is not what is discussed in ‘The Padilla case’: the most interesting thing about the documentary is how fear can make you change your own ideals, the illogicality of terror, the brainwashing that can make you believe that positioning yourself in favor of everything you clearly hate is the most appropriate position. First of all, is a film about human psychology and horror that a powerful tangible entity can cause someone with a lot to lose.
In times of fake news, conflicting and irreconcilable positions and dirty war between all politicians, ‘The Padilla case’ serves not only to remove consciencesbut to provide a bit of clarity within a gloomy panorama: five decades may contemplate the discouraging speech of a poet, but, of course, still has a lot to say. Precisely, in everything that she is silent.
It’s rare and refreshing to see a tape (especially being a documentary) that trust the viewer and let them draw their own conclusions, whatever they are. The director could have chosen the option of directing the opinion of the public by adding current images to use them for context, or giving his opinion on the consequences of Padilla’s speech. Instead he lets let us be the ones who reflect, listen, read and draw conclusions. He is honored: ‘The Padilla case’, halfway between the bibliographic document and the usual documentary, is a key piece to understand our present, although for this it requires an adult audience willing to listen and understand. It is not always there.
In Espinof | One of the best movies of the year is already streaming: a prodigious Oscar-nominated documentary about art and personal tragedies that become collective