A while ago I heard about the trouble Cuba has with restoring historic buildings. It is an expensive task, and in a tourism hot spot like Cuba this would normally be done by private investors. But this is a socialist country that has long pretended that there was no such thing as private ownership in buildings, something which was only changed in 2011. Which means there was never much importance or priority given to keeping the records in order, as no-one took any interest in them. So there is a problem of non-existent or inefficient property titles, as well as the looming prospect of legal battles of properties seized by the government after the revolution. All this is creating an uncertainty for owners, investors, and residents; and this uncertainty is impeding investment. If it is impossible to establish ownership with any degree of legal certainty, it becomes difficult to sell or buy buildings and any kind of investment represents a risk. So the buildings keep rotting, even if their location and/or their history would normally attract investors.
(The problem of sloppy record-keeping and inefficient property laws slowing down investment is a problem, by the way, which Cuba shares with a lot of countries, not all of them socialist.)
Another thing about Cuba is that there is simply not enough space. Even if a building crumbles, the government is unable to find alternative accommodation for that building’s residents.
All these aspects of buildings and habitation are in some way mirrored in Camila Carballo’s short film Lobos: old buildings slowly crumbling; the vague limbo regarding ownership; and people’s desire for more space.
The short’s young protagonists live in on the same floor of a creaking old apartment building – possibly a historic building that has been sub-divided into little flats at a later time. They are not immediate neighbours – their small flats are separated by the flat of an old man. As soon as they receive the news that the old man has died, the young people get to work: doors are forced open, books and other private items are discarded, and walls are taken down. The old man has no relatives left, only one son who lives a (presumably) better life in New York now. So the young people assume that if they move quickly enough and re-draw the “boundaries” of their flats, as it were, then soon everyone will have forgotten this third flat ever existed and no-one will take much notice.
The plan is to divide the old man’s flat 50/50, by removing the old walls and erecting a new one in the middle. One neighbour intends to use his share to fulfil the dream of a bigger living room; the couple in the other flat want to use the gained space to give their infant son his own room. But the appetite on both sides for more space soon leads to conflict.
Writer/director/producer Camila Carballo has a good hand for location and atmosphere (including the employment of sound), and the young actors involved (Raúl Capote, Yasmani Guerrero, Yanelis Mora, Raquel Rey) all do a great job. I am not a particular fan of the short’s ending, but it sort of fits the film’s slightly surreal and kafkaesque tone.
Lobos is a very accomplished, very professional-looking film which has no noticeable shortcomings, and should be rated at or above 7 out of 10.