Cuban-Soviet fraternity fail at forefront of 'The Project of the Century' film

Miami International Film Festival features film about Cuban family


MIAMI – A melancholic black-and-white film about the emotional effects of the post-Cold War financial isolation in Cuba will be shown during the Miami International Film Festival in downtown Miami Sunday.

"The Project of the Century," in Spanish "La Obra del Siglo," is about Cuban men dealing with Fidel Castro's failed Russo-Cuban partnership.

Shades of gray between reality and fiction are part of the film's foundation. And the only color in the film is seen on  the clips of the Cuban propaganda.

"In a city once promised to become the hub of the Soviet nuclear project, the scant remains of this world weigh down on these three solitary men," Cuban director Carlos Machado Quintela said.

Grandfather, father and son live under the shadow of the unfinished Juragua Nuclear Station, the ruins of what Cubans once thought would be a 1,600-megawatt reactor complex in the Ciudad Nuclear, now a forgotten town near the southern port city of Cienfuegos.

In a slow pace, the film portrays the feeling of failure that plagues the three men.  After a breakup, Leonardo, 30, moves in with his grumpy grandfather Otto, and his father Rafael, 50, an engineer. And unlike their pet gold fish, Benjamin, the three men "have yet to learn how to breathe under water," Machado said.

While exploring the thematic of the failures of the Castro revolution, the filmmaker dealt with plenty of pressure himself.

"Although we had state support and permission, we knew that these could easily be revoked with just one phone call or slip-up on our part," Machado said during an interview with Screen Daily. He studied screenwriting at Cuba's International Film and Television School in San Antonio de los Banos.


Language: Spanish with English subtitles

Country: Cuba, Argentina, Switzerland and Germany

Running time: 100 minutes

Showtimes: 7 p.m., Sunday, March 8, at the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center, 174 E. Flagler Street in Miami.

Film makers: Carlos Machado Quintela, Natacha Cervi, Pablo Chernov, Hernan Musaluppi, Abel Arcos, Carlos Quintela, Marcos B. Bohorquez and Yan Vega.

The film portrays Cuban history as it follows a plan that was born in the 1950s during Fulgencio Batista's regime. When Russia couldn't continue to pay, Castro announced the construction of the island's largest industrial project was suspended, Sept. 5, 1992.

"There are those who become discouraged, who become cowardly," Castro said in Spanish during the speech. "There are those who are traitors, those who desert. This happens in all eras, in all revolutions."

For years, the U.S. embargo discouraged other countries to invest on the plant, which had already cost Cuba $1.1 billion.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen once referred to the possibility of having a nuclear plant in Cuba as a "ticking time bomb" and "a potential Chernobyl in our backyard." She based her comparison to the horrendous nuclear meltdown on information that former plant workers, who immigrated to South Florida, provided.

The future of the desolation at Ciudad Nuclear is uncertain. When Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to pay for it in 2000, Castro said Cuba was no longer interested in building it.

Aside from the gloomy scenes, the film also contains some profanity and adult content -- including a scene with a man masturbating into a toilet and another performing oral sex on his girlfriend.

Argentina's Rizoma produced the film, which premiered in the Tigers Competition at Rotterdam Film Festival. In Miami, it is one of 11 candidates of The Knight Competition. Machado and Cuban actor Mario Guerra, who played Rafael, will participate in a discussion Sunday at Miami's Olympia Theater.