Cuba’s First Big Zombie Movie

It seems 2011 is the year for Cuban cinema to step up its game. Probably the most anticipated Cuban film to come out this year is Juan of the Dead. Not only is it probably the biggest action film coming out of Cuba, but also the first major zombie movie.

I’m sort of obsessed with Zombie movies myself. The subtext always follows a self-aware protagonist fighting for his/her soul against an army of mindless people. It’s always struggle for life, and refusal to accept joining a zombie mass. Deep, huh? Or it can be, if it wants to be. The beauty is it’s all cloaked in “entertainment”. Zombie movies always come in different shapes and sizes from apocalypse ones (28 Days Later) to comedies (Shaun of the Dead) to old fashioned badass classics (George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead). The latter of which had only one surviving hero… the person with the most soul… a black man in 1968.

This is where zombie movies can get political, I believe. The same year Night of the Living Dead was released in theaters, The Civil Right Act of 1968 was passed in the USA which finally prohibited several forms of discrimination. This was the end of an era in a long civil rights battle that lasted roughly from 1954 to 1968. Or maybe it was just a silly zombie movie, right? The thing about a good zombie movie is that they can be so damn complex, profound, and thought provoking, while at the same time, you can shut your brain off and watch a shallow action film, and laugh your ass off.

(A Zombie on the set during the making of Juan of the Dead)

Back to the Cuban zombie film. For starters, the movies tagline reads “Fifty years after the Cuban revolution a new one is about to start”. In the film, Havana is overrun by zombies while’s Cuba’s Communist leaders insist it’s just a plot by US-backed dissidents to bring down the government. The films hero, Juan, decides to not only ignore his governments propaganda, but he becomes the opposite of what every good Communist citizen is — he becomes a capitalist! Juan (played brilliantly by Cuban actor Alexis Diaz de Villegas) opens a business (a very relevant plotline today in Cuba). It is up to the hero Juan to rid the island of the undead for money.

Juan’s commercials for his new business (another new challenge in Cuba, the introduction of advertising) pragmatically, and funnily, offers his clients to kill family members who are infected. The outbreak of zombies multiplies across Havana and Juan is open for business and making a killing (no pun).  And so begins the little nuances that set apart this zombie film from the others, with insidery Cuban jokes, and winks, and an overall release valve to laugh off all the pressures of living in a conflicted society in an economic crisis.

(Director and Writer Alejandro Brugués filmed Juan of the Dead with a Red Camera)

The young cool charismatic Director/Writer, Alejandro Brugués, is 34 years old and seems raised on Robert-Rodriguez-Tarantino influence. Born in Argentina, but living in Cuba, this is his second movie since graduating from Cuba’s International School of Film and Television. Somehow, this resident filmmaker borrowed 2.3 million budget (enormous for a Cuban film), and found producing partners in Spain who believed in him relentlessly. The film was produced by Gervasio Iglesias, Inti Herrera and Claudia Calviño, starring Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Jazz Vilá, Andros Perugorría.

(The Producers who supported Director Alejandro Brugués on his vision)

Burges offers his own insights on the storyline, “It’s a zombie film but it’s about Cubans and how we react in the face of a crisis because we’ve had a lot of them here over the last 50 years.” When asked if there’s deeper undertones, he answers “It is a social comedy, it has a bit of everything. It has horror, it has action and it pretty much laughs in the face of problems.” There’s nothing like a good raft joke in Cuba too.. the most useful “one-way-ride” out of the country. In Juan of the Dead, the hero’s car (his Batmobile, if you will) also doubles as a raft.

(The Hero’s Car doubles as a Raft)

The film will be released in Cuba this year and is also slated to be released in United States, but no release date has been set yet. All eyes will be on this Director who has managed to take the local movie game to new unpredictable levels.

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