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The Forbidden Symbols


The funniest moment of the only movie that Caetano Veloso ever made, O Cinema Falado (1986), is a scene in which Brazilian actress Regina Casé parodies the gestures and body language of Fidel Castro. Within the collage of an avant garde film-essay, the parody is a humorous parenthesis that alternates between quotes from Heidegger, Guimarães Rosa, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, combining with popular dance and music scenes, the visual grammar of Cinema Novo, and an entire paraphernalia of juxtaposed monologues suggested, as Caetano once admitted, by Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s novel Three Trapped Tigers.

To show language as performance, and to take on topics such as politics, sexuality, art, and the avant-garde sensibility, are some of the intentions of the film, which was not as well received as its director expected. However, it is curious that in the film’s arsenal of connotations, there was a place reserved to parody the tropical Ubú, to demonstrate all the grotesque codes of his discourse, the performative essence of the caudillo.

This is something exceptional within the Latin American avant-garde world, which for a long time has venerated the symbolic capital of the Cuban Revolution.

For decades, Fidel Castro’s image and attributes were taboo in Cuban art. Any type of parody was forbidden. Any allusion was severely censored or punished. Up to the late 1980s, no Cuban artist dared to take the most explicit image of power beyond propagandistic or official art.

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