A Cuban comedy of zombies in La Habana

Talent Press Guadalajara participant Mayle González Mirabal reviews Alejandro Brugués' Cuban zombie parable JUAN OF THE DEAD at the Guadalajara Film Festival.

Alejandro Brugués’ JUAN OF THE DEAD.

La Habana in invaded by human flesh hungry zombies who infect the whole population with a bite. It has been said that the riot was started by American forces, but the alarm generates all kind of questions among the residents, nobody knows the real cause of this unusual fact.

As in any other zombie movie, panic is widespread among the population. The situation is the best excuse for the main character of the film to become the hero of the story. Played by the Cuban actor Alexis Diaz de Villegas, Juan is a man who lives on the terrace roof of a building with his best friend Lazaro, played by the film director Jorge Molina. Both characters prefer to stay on the Isle forever; they think this is their only possibility to live a comfortable life.

Juan finds out the best way to kill the zombies and he knows this will be the perfect chance for him and his friend to make money. He creates a business with the motto “Juan of the dead – we kill your beloved ones”; and for a reasonable price he and his unemployed friends of the neighborhood accept the task of killing the infected ones. But the plague becomes uncontrollable and the only alternative for Juan is to assume the hero's roll to save his beloved ones of this madness. His daughter, who doesn’t live with him because of his easy life, is also in danger.

Through this character we get to know Juan’s regrets as they grew further apart. But Juan wants to change this situation showing her his love for her in the middle of the zombie invasion. Brugues leaves this idea a little unclear, he could have thought up a better way to solve the conflict without deserting humour; it is clearly a feeling of frustration and attachment that the character feels towards Cuba.

JUAN OF THE DEAD is inspired by the so-called horror comedies, which make fun of nonsense situations like zombie invasion. This Cuban production filled the theaters during its screening at the New Latin-American Cinema International Festival in La Habana. The film director had already surprised Cuban filmmaking with PERSONAL BELONGINGS (2006), a very well-received melodrama. It seems that Brugues prefers to explore new ways of national cinematography, since he has been pleading for an auteur cinema, worried about social issues during the past decades.

However, his lack of experience didn’t mark his final product. Alejandro worked together with the Catalonian photographer Carles Gusi. For Gusi it was not difficult to achieve those scenes where everything seemed bigger and more spectacular than in real life. Among Gusi’s filmography we can list comedies like MUTANT ACTION or TORRENTE, EL BRAZO TONTO DE LA LEY, films in which he had already gathered experience with this extravagant kind of work.

The music joined the story in a very suggestive way. The film starts with local sounds in La Habana, and finishes in a ghost town atmosphere. The funk rhythm of the 70’s decade was an accurate idea, due to the fact that zombie movies date back from that time.

From the beginning of the shooting, Brugues insisted this movie was meant to be fun. He declared the idea of packing La Habana with zombies was quite likeable. JUAN OF THE DEAD is a film which heaps Cuba’s everyday life with laughter – using scary and amusing special effects- and leads the audience to reflections. The film has its own lecture on reality; in fact, the jokes refer to daily life in the Isle (bloggers, neighborhood reunions, state informants, dissidents, the need to travel, etc). However, it becomes a series of reiterative jokes – some of them already used in Cuban movies of the 90’s.

Unfortunately, we never get to know the characters position, as if it was a coincident ambiguity; nor the background of the absurd presented on the comedy. This might have been Brugues intention although he never clears it up.