Improper Conduct (Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal / France, 1984):
(Mauvaise Conduite)

"Conducta impropia" is said to have been the catch-all justification for persecuting the "intellectuals, artists, writers and faggots" of Castro’s Cuba, nearly 30 exiles face the camera and remember. Footage of the 1966 defection of members of the National Ballet Company in Paris introduces an early crack in the image of the Revolution, which is variously described as indoctrination, medicine, catechism and internment, the prostitution of the body politic and a dolorous betrayal. From New York, Madrid and Paris, witnesses recall forced work camps somewhere between Stalin and Pinochet, arrests and inhuman treatment over vague accusations of "extravagance" and "vagrantism," and the "moral purges" which led to the exodus of ten percent of the population. (Refugees cram into embassies for protection and get heckled and spat on, the government’s official story is viewed on Miami TV stations: "They’re like wild animals! To think we’d see something like this in our country.") Reinaldo Arenas was a distinguished playwright elsewhere in the world yet a "non-person" in his own land, Caracol the transvestite burlesque queen evokes a time when plucked eyebrows and too-tight pants could land people in jail. Susan Sontag pinpoints homosexuality as an affront to Fidel’s macho façade and contemplates the Left’s need to evolve in the face of such revelations, while Armando Valladares more simply laments "how much the Revolution has changed." Anger, disillusionment and the Cuban gift for mockery are amply evident in this one-sided but illuminating documentary, with Néstor Almendros and Orlando Jiménez Leal building to the image of the displaced poet at a children’s puppet show, and the fatigued eloquence of one of Castro’s former associates: "Tengo memoria, pero no tengo odio." With Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Heberto Padilla, Ana Maria Simo, Juan Goytisolo, Carlos Franqui, Martha Frayde, and Rene Ariza.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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