‘Venice’ (‘Venecia’): Toronto Review

Venicia Venice Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Ka Producciones

Venicia Venice Still - H 2014

The chicas just want to have fun in this dated but punchy film about female friendship  

Flying the flag for an independent Cuban cinema, Kiki Alvarez makes his debut Toronto appearance

The latest addition to the subgenre of movies named after cities where their characters will never go, Venice is old style indie fare that would indeed just be old if it weren't for its characters. But Kiki Alvarez’s tale of a day and a night in the lives of three Habana girlfriends represents a major advance on his disappointingly vacuous Giraffes, since this time Alvarez has put aside his auteurist mannerisms and let the vibrancy of his characters take center stage.

Again portraying life far from the rum and rumbero cinema stereotypes of Cuba, Alvarez delivers an unfiltered, tough version of the lives of working-class Cuban women. Though from its title down there’s really nothing that hasn’t been said many times before, the vibrancy and passion of the characters, and Alvarez’s love of them, jump out of the screen. Further festival play seems guaranteed.

“We were happy and we didn’t know it”, one character murmurs, but they are not. Mature, married Monica (Maribel Garcia Garzon), innocent Violeta (Claudia Muniz) and overweight, effervescent but insecure Mayelin (Marianela Pupo) are hairstylists in a run-down Havana salon. The static camera and an endlessly whirring through the early scenes evoke the stifling boredom of things. What energy there is, is supplied by the women themselves, their apparently improvised dialogues thick with the wit of the streets.

Little happens: We are watching people, not events. The women’s conversations are a little bitchy, a little tense and often about men. Mayelin refers constantly to the size of her breasts, seemingly the possession of which she’s proudest. They try on some dresses, then go to Violeta’s house where the apparently bulimic Mayelin throws up in secret. Later they’ll head for a nightclub where the camera becomes more active. In an impressively staged but overextended sequence that ends with a DJ wearing a pig mask — one of thankfully few directorial flourishes — the friends go their own separate ways in search of sensation and of the men they are thoughtlessly allowing to define them.

All performances are strong, with Pupo standing out, but its the sense of union between the three women that comes over strongest. This trio could have been friends for years.

The most memorable moments in Venice are indeed moments: little glimpses of truth, as when Mayelin tries to stop herself from giggling at Violeta’s mentally damaged brother Coco, a handbag falling from a step as a perfect index of emotional deflation, or one striking shot showing the dazed, suddenly silent women riding in the back of a taxi. One of the film’s virtues is that the viewer knows exactly what each of the women is thinking even though they never come close to verbalizing it. On the downside, someone should tell Alvarez that Spanish language cinema would probably survive another big-hearted transvestite.

Topped and tailed by a straightforward, but stylish credit sequence, Venice closes with an beautiful onscreen quotation from the Russian modernist poet Anna Akhmatova. It’s an unnecessary reminder that there is poetry even in these superficially banal lives in a film that has already successfully revealed it.

Production companies: KA Producciones, Galaxia 311, Producciones LargasLuces, Razon Producciones
Cast: Claudia Muniz, Marianela Pupo, Maribel Garcia Garzon
Director: Kiki Alvarez
Screenwriters: Muniz, Alvarez, Ordonez
Producers: Ivette Liang, Ivonne Cotorruelo, Alvarez, Ordonez, Ruben Valdes
Executive producers: Ivette Liang, Ivonne Cotorruelo, Álvarez, Ordóñez
Director of photography: Ordonez
Production designer: Roberto Ramos
Editor: Joanna Montero
Composer: DJ Joyvan
Sales: Habanero Film Sales
Rating: 14A
74 minutes