This evening Brooklyn’s Light Industry screened a rare Cuban film, Sara Gomez’s De Cierta Manera [One Way or Another] (1974). I had seen this film back as an undergraduate at UCSB, in Donna Cunnigham’s Film History: 1960 – Present class, well over a decade ago. Earlier this semester, I had wanted to screen this film for my own film history class, but a couple of factors made that difficult. First, I could only find a worn out VHS copy, which it lacked the image sharpness that I so vividly associate with seeing first this film. Second, I had booked two films for the day: this and the celebrated Memories of Underdevelopment. There simply wouldn’t have been time to screen both. I gave students the opportunity to see the film tonight for extra credit. One student took me up on the offer.
One Way or Another blends documentary footage with a narrative sequences. This was one of the most common stylistic qualities of post-Revolutionary Cuban cinema. Filmmakers utilized this strategy to locate the personal impact of the Revolution on ordinary Cubans. As the title suggests, the Revolution was going to change everyone’s lives…one way or another.
In this particular film, we see the social challenges of the Revolution through two institutions: organized labor and the schools. In the opening sequence of the film, we see a tribunal for Humberto. We learn later in the film that he is being judged for loafing, as this scene is repeated. Loafing in Revolutionary Cuba has consequences since it threatens productivity and also solidarity.
We also see the social impact of the Revolution in the schools. A few delinquent students, who are unaccustomed to formal education, complicate the educational mission of the Revolution. Moreover, their parents are also uneducated and ill-equipped to supervise their children’s education. Without education, the Revolution cannot adequately lift children out of poverty.
Like most Cuban films of the time, there was a mix of personal narratives in the film, which were fictional. As the film documents the tribunal and the challenges of the labor union, we see it through the character of Mario. Mario accuses Humberto of loafing at the hearing. When the tribunal scene is repeated towards the end of the film, we don’t understand why Mario testifies against Humberto, as we see that they are friends throughout the film. However, we learn in the moments following the second instance of the tribunal that Mario struggled with the decision to “rat out” his friend but ultimately decided to do so for the sake of the Revolution. Mario’s internal conflict makes for a more nuanced view of the Revolution. While Humberto’s decision to loaf, by staying with a young woman, hurt worker productivity and solidarity, it required Mario to betray his friend.
Throughout the film, Mario courts Yolanda, a young, educated and independent school teacher. It is through her character that we see the challenges in the schools. Her education gave her the opportunity to teach children, but she is constantly frustrated by the inability of her students to learn and behave appropriately in the classroom. (Believe me, I can appreciate her frustration.) In perhaps one of the most touching moments, she admits her frustration when she describes the cycle of a young girl going through school until the sixth grade, who then marries and has her own daughter who will go to the same school for her own sixth-grade education. Her soliloquy is punctuated by a scene of young black girls in short white dresses dancing provocatively in the village. This image contrasts with Yolanda’s own dress and gestures that, by comparison, characterize her as a schoolmarm.
The most direct consequence of the Revolution in this film is the urban redevelopment projects, which were common not only in post-Revolutionary Cuba but throughout Latin America and even some cities in the United States. A recurring image is the razing of the slums, which were being replaced by shiny, modern housing units. The wrecking ball that demolishes the old blighted housing reminds us of the immediate change that the Revolution brings. However, it is the rapid pace of change that the film takes most issue. It is clear that some Cubans were unprepared for the Revolution. This is despite the seemingly good intentions of the Revolution’s architects, who were curiously never represented in the film.