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'Suite Habana'

Reviving a tradition that dates back to silent-era landmarks like Walter Ruttman's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Suite Habana distills a day's worth of the sights (and sounds) of Havana into its 84 minutes. The action, such as it is, concerns a handful of presumably "ordinary" Cubans, identified only by their names and ages (which range from 10 to 97), going about their everyday business. Dialogue is sparse but bits of narrative emerge—most poignantly a man apparently leaving his country and family behind to move to Florida, in a sequence that's as close as Suite Habana comes to overt political commentary (Castro goes wholly unmentioned, although we do see a poster of Che Guevara). The abandonment of ready-made structures should have allowed for a less stilted end result, but director Fernando Pérez's fussy mise-en-scéne privileges artfulness over spontaneity, leaving us with a lot of self-regarding images of people working machines, chopping onions, riding bicycles, reading magazines, curling hair, kissing children, attending church, watching television, bathing, walking, eating, sleeping. It's all pleasant enough, but the pretty pictures, languid pacing, and endless stretches of mood music eventually combine to soporific effect.


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