REVVING UP ENGINES FOR YOU: “BEHAVIOUR”

Enrique Castro Ríos

Conducta (Behaviour), Cuba 2014, by Ernesto Daranas Serrano

Exhibited on Saturday, 8 February 2020 at 7:00 p.m.
at the Mirador del Pacífico of the Cinta Costera I

 

 

Conducta (Behaviour) trailer at the PLATINO Xcaret Awards YouTube channel.

What does it mean to be a child in the second decade of the 21st century? And being one in Cuba, fifty-five years after the triumph of its Revolution?[1] What role do the school and the teacher play in the future of each and every child? These are just three of the myriad “strong questions”[2] posed by Behaviour, a challenging fictional portrait with strong documentary elements that Ernesto Daranas Serrano makes about the vulnerability of children in his childhood barrio, Habana Vieja.

As a “coming of age film”,[3] a cinematographic and literary sub-genre where a young person either seeks or is nodged towards maturity, Behaviour confronts us not with the adulthood explored by an older teenager but with the maturity that must be reached by a pre-adolescent child who’s already assuming the tough responsibilities of an adult, in order not to be crushed by these.

Enough; I don’t aim to narrate the story, that’s Behaviour’s role, and films are expressed through a rhythm or dosage in the unveiling of their information that spoilers and reviews often violate. Even the moment —and the way— in which the name of our protagonist is introduced has been carefully crafted by Daranas and his accomplices, since Behaviour’s script, as well as its casting, are the product of intense collaborative work under his wise leadership.

What stands out right away in Behaviour are the actoral interpretations by children masterfully prepared to live their characters and share them with us not only from the skin but from their guts —and personal experiences—. This is fundamental: in Panama we have confused the verb to act with “to pretend” or “represent” in a nineteenth-century style, à la Comédie-Française, in contrast to the Royal Spanish Academy’s Spanish language dictionary’s definition which states, hole-in-one:

act
1. intr. Said of a person or a thing: Perform actions proper to their own nature.[4] [my emphasis]

To achieve this nature, Daranas and his casting director Mariela López gave a twist to the traditional approach to casting. In Daranas’ own words:

“We started with a massive casting to which thousands of children came, most of them brought by their parents. It helped us understand that the children we were looking for were not going to reach us that way. It was then that the seven students of the FAMCA [Faculty of Art for Audiovisual Media, who together with Daranas developed the script as a film-workshop] began the real casting of Behaviour by visiting, one by one, the primary and secondary [schools] of Cerro, Centro Habana and Habana Vieja [barrios]. Thus we managed to put together an excellent group of children, some of them with problems very similar to those we were addressing, and who made many contributions to the story. Mariela López, our casting director, was very important in this process.”[5]

 

The naturalness with which these children express themselves was further supported by a wise yet humble camerawork which emphasizes medium shots and close-ups[6] achieved through the use of telephoto lenses, which allow the camera and its crew to stay away from the interpreters, thus respecting their space and involving the human and urban elements that normally surround them. Behaviour itself, dare I say, is a study on the narrative use of the telephoto lens. Quoting Alejandro Pérez, Behaviour’s director of photography:

“[The story] was so strong, so interesting, so hard that I proposed [to Ernesto Daranas] not to dilute ourselves with long shots, or with any kind of virtuosity, but to concentrate on medium shots and close-ups of the actors. To visually work the film with many telephoto lenses.

“I wanted the backgrounds to have a presence, but not [to] become the protagonists, since [the protagonists] were the actors and the story being told. This film did very well with this type of photography. It’s very naturalistic, with a very realistic light.”[7]

Telephoto lenses also have the quality of compressing or flattening the perspective, “contracting” the distance between people and objects that are close to, intermediate and distant from the camera, and decreasing the depth of field or the area that is in focus in a given shot. In Behaviour these qualities contribute to portray Old Havana in a way akin to how its inhabitants experience it, avoiding touristy aesthetics, with beautifully tight compositions with single vanishing point perspectives, saturating the frame with human activity typical to the streets of these barrios without distracting our attention from the films’ wonderful protagonists.

Sadly for Cuban and less directly for Panamanian cinema, Behaviour marked the last performance by Alina Rodríguez, an extraordinary Cuban actress who came to our country as interpreter and acting coach for Salsipuedes (Panama 2016, by Ricardo Aguilar Navarro and Manuel Rodríguez), and who died the year after her work in Behaviour. It is an honour to have her once more with us, in the ephemeral manifestation of her beautiful work thanks to the magic of a movie screen.

 

Enrique Castro Ríos
[email protected]

 

[1] I count the years from 1959 to 2014, when Behaviour was released.
[2] I appropriate this phrase from filmmaker Mauro Colombo, director of Tierra adentro (Inland, Panama 2018), mentioned during our conversation after his film was chosen for the Bright Future section of the 49. IFF Rotterdam 2020: “I like a documentary when it leaves you with a strong question.” https://www.iffpanama.org/es/blog/cancha-larga-cine-es-alquimia-y-brujeria
[3] This sub-genre, which has produced beautiful films throughout the history of cinema, is currently abused by Hollywood commercial mainstream cinema to represent thirty- and forty-somethings trapped in a perpetual adolescence, apparently caused by their failure to take advantage of their entitlement. This contrasts with contemporary international films such as Behaviour, the Lebanese Capernaum (2018, by Nadine Labaki), or Beasts of No Nation (USA-Ghana 2015, by Cary Joji Fukunaga).
[4] Spanish language dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, https://dle.rae.es/actuar?m=form
[5] Ernesto Daranas Serrano, director of Behaviour, in an interview with Paquita de Armas Fonseca: «Premiering Daranas’ film: May each person make their own interpretation». p. Cubadebate. Originally from 6 February 2014, consulted on 6 February 2020. http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2014/02/06/estrenan-hoy-pelicula-de-da...
[6] Cinematic framings that focus on the person as an individual, or on the relationship between two or three individuals. The medium shot (MS) frames an interpreter from above their head down to their waist, and the close-up (CU) from above their crown down to their shoulders.
[7] Alejandro Pérez, Behaviour’s director of photography, in an interview with Aline Marie Rodríguez: «A kid behind the camera». p. La Jiribilla. Originally from 1-7 March 2014, consulted on 6 February 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20180222045829/http://epoca2.lajiribilla.cu/...