There’s a moment in Fernando Prez’s wordless tribute to his hometown when he zooms in on a woman slicing an onion. It’s a perfect metaphor for this stunning, stylized film, which cuts straight to the heart of its protagonists’ stories, as opposed to daintily peeling away layers. A calculated chronicle of 24 hours in the lives of a disparate assortment of Havana’s denizens, Suite Habana isn’t a pure documentary. While the people are real, Prez has clearly posed them in the ways that best suit his haunting and lyrical narrative, yet the emotions the film evokes are completely genuine.
As the sun rises, the subjects (who are filmed at home with their families) go about their morning routines before setting off for the day. Although they interact, no one speaks, and a cacophony of everyday noises—construction, traffic, birds, the ocean waves—as well as (at times overbearing) music make up the soundtrack. As the exhausting day draws to a close, the characters come alive: A bricklayer dances ballet, a railroad repairman breaks out his saxophone, and a hospital launderer dons drag and lip-synchs to Celia Cruz.
Those looking for an overt political message will not find it here (although almost everyone portrayed is part of the proletariat). Suite Habana isn’t about Castro or class—it’s about a beautiful, vibrant, difficult city that both fulfills and stomps on its citizens’ dreams. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—Raven Snook