Mirtha – Havana Glasgow Film Festival review by Fionnuala Boyle
From 13th to 16th November, 2019, the Havana Film Festival returned to Glasgow for the fifth year running with the theme ‘film can change the world’. The festival featured a special guest appearance from Cuban actress and director, Mirtha Ibarra. Mirtha discussed her self-titled documentary, Mirtha, which details her life and the life of her husband, Cuban filmmaker Titón, whose work is one of the main focuses of this year’s festival. This weekend, I went along to a screening of Mirtha at The Centre for Contemporary Arts to find out more about the Cuban star.
Throughout the documentary, Mirtha sets out her life in different parts under titles such as ‘ser madre’ (being ‘Mum’), ‘Titón’ and ‘la vida… continua’ (life goes on). In each, Ibarra shares her most intimate and treasured moments with viewers, always stopping to ruminate on what they meant to her at the time as well as the value they now hold in present day. Ibarra touches on her first marriage to a Frenchman and their move to Paris following the birth of their first child. After a few years, the longing for her home country is too much and Ibarra decides to move back to Cuba with her children, with the assumption that her husband will follow. He doesn’t, and this is one of many instances in the film which portrays the sacrifices Ibarra makes for the people she loves which are not necessarily reciprocated. However Ibarra never speaks of these moments bitterly or begrudgingly. Instead, she speaks of them matter-of-factly, showing little dejection from actions which others may perceive as deceitful. Ultimately, her unwavering devotion to her family prevails.
Ibarra also returns to her childhood home and, in spotting her old swimming pool, is in disbelief at how big it seemed to her as a child. The moment captures how things that once held so much significance to us can quickly become irrelevant, but will always remain important in the whole tapestry of our lives. This sentiment is echoed near the end of the film when Mirtha is walking through town with her son and points out the house where his father was born. Again, Mirtha seems to pin-points stages, chapters and moments in her life like one would physically place a pin on a map of the world, equating physical location with how she has evolved as a person. This makes the film even more pertinent to the festival’s exploration of Cuban identity.
Mirtha then recalls meeting Titón for the first time at a party where they exchange a feverish and passionate kiss, with Titón saying that he wants to mimic a scene from a Hollywood movie. Ibarra is unimpressed, and leaves the party immediately. Titón would later apologise to her, saying he had one too many drinks. Mirtha notes wittingly that Titón never had one too many drinks again. Despite such a dubious first encounter, Mirtha and Titón go on to enjoy an intense, loving relationship, with Titón directing many of the movies Mirtha has starred in. There is definitely an element of the-artist-and-his-muse at play, but it is clear that the relationship holds greater sincerity and less superficiality and vanity as would usually be attached to such a partnership.
Speaking of Titón’s death, Mirtha describes how, the night before he died, Titón repeated a line from the poem ‘De Qué Callada Manera’ by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. The line perfectly captures the notion of enduring love which seems to characterise the love they shared:
‘De qué callada manera
se me adentra usted sonriendo,
como si fuera la primavera,
Y yo, muriendo,
Y yo muriendo.’
‘In such a silent way,
You burrow in me smiling,
As if it was spring,
And me dying,
And me dying.’
In the wake of Titón’s death, Ibarra harnesses her helplessness into strength, explaining how these moments are the ones where you must reinvent yourself, and find out who you are all over again. Mirtha says that ‘we are never the same after we have suffered’. Although this may be true, the film proves that we must go on in the hope that we can be something better, and to trust that good is coming our way despite life’s difficulties.
From knowing nothing about the actress before watching the film, I felt an instant connection to Mirtha and her story. Maybe I am biased as a Spanish graduate, since I have always considered the Spanish language extremely provocative and capable of expressing such deep meaning and emotion with every roll of the ‘r’. However, I don’t think it was the Spanish language that made the story so powerful, but Mirtha’s telling of it. It made me optimistic for what the next chapter holds in the story of my own life, and, like Mirtha, what challenges I can face with grace, fortitude and a belief in enduring love.
Fionnuala Boyle, November, 2019.
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