The Project of the Century

LetterboxD review link

I saw Carlos Quintela’s The Project of the Century at the Museum of the Moving Image, where he was in attendance to participate in a Q&A after the film. I was impressed with how mature, well-spoken and self-assured he seemed for a young director. And after seeing his film, that confidence was also clear in his film-making.

I thought about two major things while watching this film: (1) how well it incorporated historical context into a medium that usually has difficulty doing that. And (2) how it borrowed from French New Wave cinema to add to its success.

American culture is really bad at providing historical context where appropriate. In fact, often it seems like we go out of our way to forget history. This is difficult in policy making, in mainstream news, in almost every type of communication but perhaps the most difficult in film because of limits of space and time and expectations of audiences. This film, however, incorporated historical texts and context very well. The interplay between old documentary footage and current fictional footage was edited in a way that both moved the story forward and also gave the audience plenty to think about in terms of the interplay between past and present. That is no small feat, and I applaud the filmmakers for achieving it.

The other major success of the film was the use of French New Wave aesthetics to situate Cuba’s place in the world in the same way the 50s and 60s French auteurs situated France in the post-war global context. Leo, the youngest of the 3 males in the center of the film, serves as the best example of a French New Wave character. Unlucky in love, lost in his own country, unhappy with his home life, Leo captures the anxieties of the latest generation struggling with identity (their own and their country’s). His father and grandfather, too, for that matter, struggle with identity but in a way that suggests more hopeless nostalgia (to borrow my friend’s phrase) than active angst. The film captured so well the feelings of 40, 50, and 60 year old Cubans who are now dealing with the realities that the promises they heard for the last 50 years are just not true.