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‘El Caballo’: The New Film by Cuban Director Lilo Vilaplana

"El caballo", la nueva película del director cubano Lilo Vilaplana

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Cuban filmmaker Lilo Vilaplana, who from his exile in Miami even manages with a drone to film in Cuba without entering the island, deals in his new film, El Caballo the vicissitudes that a family lives to eat a piece of meat outside the law, a story he wants to serve as a tribute “to what happened on 11J.”

Based on a story told by writer and fellow countryman Marcos Miranda, who narrated it as a screenplay, Vilaplana’s new film touches on a very sensitive issue for Cubans.

Such is the case of food shortages and the recurrent “theft and slaughter of cattle,” a legal figure punishable on the island with up to 10 years in prison.

“We did it to contemporize the real story (of Miranda), to denounce how Cubans live outside the law,” says Vilaplana, also co-screenwriter of the film, in an interview with EFE news agency.

El Caballo was shot in just five days in Miami and will be released in that city on September 25. It is a low-budget film that wanted to be as faithful as possible to the current Cuban reality, explains the director.

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To achieve this and “not to make mistakes,” he says, he made use of several advisors inside the island, among them the well-known oppositionist José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), whose house arrest benefit was revoked by the Cuban dictatorship and sent him back to prison after the popular outburst of last July 11.

Cuban reality

El Caballo talks about the bartering that currently exists in Cuba among people in order to survive, so it focuses on a couple that does even the impossible for that, even violating the laws.

“They steal things in the countryside and take it to the city to barter. One went to the countryside, took clothes, boots and came back with a piglet, 62 years have passed and everything is still the same,” says Vilaplana, born in Nuevitas, Camagüey (east), and who claims to be “a guajiro”.

Regarding the use of images that could be disturbing when dealing with the subject, the director says that “you never see how the animal is killed, but it is inferred, there was the death of the animal”.

“In Cuba people kill a lot of horses, there is a lot of horse slaughter, the story is based on a real event,” he points out.

But the film, which lasts 1 hour and 16 minutes, “is much more than that” and shows a “mosaic of Cuban current affairs” by touching on issues such as “the exploitation of doctors” by the State, and how “the bureaucratic apparatus manages to stay in power.”

“It’s much more” than the theme of sacrificing an animal in order to feed itself. The essence of this story, starring actors Ariel Texidó and Alina Robert, is to show “how one can get into trouble for committing an imprudence,” says Vilaplana, without giving away any of the plot.

The film’s title, which alludes to the nickname given to Fidel Castro by the Cubans, is subtitled “Nobody is safe”, which, according to the director, “is its leitmotif.”

El Caballo is a hymn to freedom and a tribute to what happened in Cuba on July 11. Everything that happened on July 11 is reflected,” he comments on the social outburst that led to the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators, some of whom are still in jail.

El Caballo in this case does not refer specifically to Castro’s nickname, “but it has to do with it, because Fidel is the great murderer of the Cuban nation,” reflects the director.

A drone in Havana to film ‘El caballo’

Vilaplana, a well-known director of teleseries, such as the ‘El capo’ saga, made in Colombia, says it would be “metaphorical” to say that his works on Cuba have been made exclusively from a distance.

“When we made (the short film) The Death of the Cat (2014) we entered a camera on the island; with Irene in Havana (2019) the same thing happened,” recalls the director, who manages “to circumvent censorship.”

He explained that in this instance they managed to introduce a drone and record aerial images of present-day Cuba.

The budget, which was covered by his own production company, Vilaplana Films, and dozens of local corporate sponsors, “was only enough for five days” of shooting, “but everything was done with a lot of enthusiasm.”

El Caballo, with original music by Cuban singer-songwriter Boris Larramendi, was shot last May in the middle of the pandemic without anyone getting sick, says the director, who is already preparing “Plantadas”, about the female political prison, “to pay tribute to these women.”