Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CINEMA-VENEZUELA: ‘Waking Up Suddenly’ Brings Controversy

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Sep 8 1998 (IPS) - The movie ‘Amanecio de golpe’ (Waking Up Suddenly), which recreates the first of two bloody military uprisings in 1992 in Venezuela, has sparked controversy even before its premiere here.

The latest work by director Carlos Azpurua will debut on Venezualan cinema screens in the middle of political campaigning for the December’s presidential elections – with the former leader of the 1992 uprisings, Hugo Chavez, currently favored to win.

Before opening simultaneously in Caracas and five other cities, the film was shown at the Montreal Film Festival earlier this month and will appear during the year at festivals in Biarritz, Mar de Plata, Huelva, and Havana.

In the movie, the heroine “Gertrudis”, played by Elba Escoba, one of the most critically acclaimed actresses in Venezuelan cinema, states “nobody wanted this to happen, it was so bad for us.”

“Gertrudis” has spent the night far from the violence of the coup, attending a relative possibly stricken with peritonitis. Throughout the movie, she is trying to bring him and his wife to the hospital from the poor shantytown where they live.

Gertrudis, both spectator and victim, and the wife of the sick man represent the Venezuelan people, always trusting that things will turn out for the best, and resigned despite all disasters that they would reach the hospital. These two women are the human counterpoints in a story where no one is saved and the only quetion is who will be hurt the most.

The script has the unmistakable mark of Jose Ignacio Cabrujas, known as the critical conscience of Venezuela until his death of a heart attack at age 58 in 1995. “Amanecio de golpe” was, in a sense, his final testament.

Cabrujas was the author of emblematic Venezuelan soap operas such as “La Senora de Cardenas,” “La Duena,” and “La dama de rosa,” plays such as “El dia que me quieras,” numerous screenplays, operas, and renowned opinion pieces.

Azpurua insists that the movie is not explicitly about the coup itself, but rather is “concerned with the emotions and reactions of a group of people that find themselves involuntarily caught up in a succession of events.”

While the director emphasizes that neither he nor Cabrujas intended to make an apology for the aborted Feb. 4 uprising in 1992, he also affirmed that the film wants to convey the dilemma of a society with a political class whose behavior destroyed the democratic process in the country.

By taking this position, Azpurua moves closer to his role as a representative for Patria Para Todo (Homeland for All), one of the groups that incorporates the Polo Patriotico (Patriotic Pole), itself a group that backs the candidacy of Chavez, the retired military man who now aspires through the polls to assume a position that he failed to reach as the leader of a military coup.

Azpurua, known for documentary films such as “Cano Manamo” and “Amazonas, el negocio de este mundo,” received 11 international film festival awards for “Disparen a Matar,” his only work of fiction until now.

“Amanecio de Golpe,” the second most expensive film in the history of Venezuelan cinema after “Aire Libre,” which opened last year, cost 1.1 million dollars in a joint production by Canada, Mexico, Spain, and Venezuela.

Abdel Guerere, president of the National Autonomous Center of Cinematography (CNAC), told IPS the project was approved in 1995 and filmed in 1996, yet post-production difficulties resulted in the final product not being ready until July.

For this reason, the film’s opening coincides with a campaign in which what three years ago seemed impossible has now taken place: Chavez is a legitimate candidate in democratic elections.

The CNAC president, in his role as promoter of Venezuelan cinema, sees the coincidence as a double opportunity. The Venezuelan public, for the most part unfamiliar with Venezuelan productions, will “recognize the high technical and artistic quality of the film and, at the same time, will appreciate the value of cinema as a document that encourages reflection and analysis of reality,” Guerere said.

According to Guerere, the film is multifaceted in the sense that “one’s interpretation of what it intends to say depends on the values that the viewer brings to it.”

While Guerere sees this as an attribute, other experts find it a weakness.

“One of the reasons why this will not be a successful film is that it offers too many interpretations, because it doesn’t stick to any one story or commit itself to any point of view,” movie critic Robert Gomez said. “ITt neither condemns nor justifiies,” which weakens the film as a whole.”

In addition, Gomez is convinced that despite Azpurua’s announced objective to make a non-partisan political movie, the “film will become an object of propaganda as a result of the context of the political moment in which it will be viewed.”

In “Amanecio de golpe,” there is a clear distinction between fiction and the actual events of the attempted coup.

In addition, in the film Chavez appears only in the moment of the televised surrender that catapulted him to fame, without uttering the historic phrase, “for now.”

The fidelity with which Azpurua’s interpretation abides to Cabruja’s original script — whose death impeded him from taking part in the transformation of the script to film and from viewing the final result — is considered by Gomez as evidence that the writer’s stamp has been imposed on the director’s point of view.

Its wink and a nod to the collective identity of the Venezuelan people, at times as accomplice and other times with bitterness; its character and the way in which things are confronted; the tragicomic setting in which its characters constantly revolve, together with elements of the soap opera genre, bring intensity to the film and make for its most worthy moments.

“The country was depressed because human relations were depressed, Cabrujas is telling us, by showing us the collapse of communication between couples,” while at the same time loyalist forces and rebels are killing each other nearby, their bullets grazing the heads of the noncombatants.

The backdrop of the film strays away from the facts of the Feb 4 uprising, mixing them with details from the second bloody uprising in 1992 which occurred on Nov. 27.

The setting of the attacks in which various couples find themselves caught is the presidential residence La Casona. This, along with the hand-to-hand combat that takes place, is pure fiction. Moreover, the only person killed by the loyalists is an injured and unarmed rebel, another fiction.

Such elements of the film are upsetting to ex-President Carlos Andres Perez, whose overthrow was the object of the attempted coup.

Perez told the newspaper “El Nacional,” that the film lacks fidelity to the actual events and presents a catastrophic image of the country and its people.

On the other hand, in an interview with the weekly magazine “Estampas” of the newspaper “El Universal,” Chavbez said that “Amenecio de golpe” was his favorite movie. Chavez later declined further comment on the film after speculation that it could be unfavorable to his public image.

Mocie promoters, worried over public reaction to “Amanecio de golpe,” asked foe a statement to be included with the credits at the end of the film that “Although things have not changed much five years after the uprising, democracy continues to be the only way to resolve our problems.” (FIN-IPS-eg-ag-cr-kk-98)

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