Saturday, May 20, 2023

Las Premieres: The Padilla Affair

Generally, it is unpleasant to have your name affixed to the word “affair,” as in the “Profumo Affair.” It was even worse for Heberto Padilla. Essentially, he was accused of unfaithfulness to the Communist revolution, having dalliances with art and truth. When he “confessed” his “sins” in an epic self-criticism session, the sick spectacle ironically turned many left-leaning European and Latin American intellectuals against the Castro regime. It is easy to see why they were so horrified by his ordeal from the rarely-seen archival footage Pavel Giroud incorporated into The Padilla Affair, which screens tomorrow at MoMI, as part of its regular Las Premieres film series.

Like so many Cuban intellectuals, Padilla was initially a supporter of Castro’s “revolution,” but the regime’s turn towards censorship soured his enthusiasm. As art became increasingly subservient to the state, Padilla started speaking out. (All those jazz fans who took “ambassador” tours of Cuba, please explain why Alberto Cabrera Infante & Orlando Jimenez Leal’s short doc
P.M., capturing Havana nightlife was censored by the dictatorship, an incident cited by Padilla in his ill-fated criticism of the revolution.) Inevitably, the secret police arrested him, releasing him 37 days later, after arranging his “self-criticism” session.

Presumably, Padilla said everything the regime told him too—and then some. Yet, it is easy to see why the footage was taken out of circulation. The profusely sweating poet is obviously physically unwell. Yet, the nervous discomfort on the faces of Padilla’s assembled fellow members of UNEAC, the Cuban artists and writers’ union, are even more telling.

Giroud’s documentary is a perfect example of how deranged the Castro regime had become and how counter-productive crude propaganda can be. This whole ugly episode was scripted out by the regime itself, yet it cost Castro dearly, largely undermining his international image. At least two thirds of the film is straight, unedited footage of Padilla’s self-criticism—and it is truly horrifying. Giroud further supplements Padilla’s punishing speech with archival news and interview footage that adds relevant context, drawn straight from other primary sources.

The Padilla Affair
is definitely an inconvenient film for the current Cuban regime and Castro’s loyal apologists. However, it is also holds embarrassing implications for the legacy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who refused to join criticism of Padilla’s public humiliation, out of a misguided commitment to a socialist future for Latin America. Choosing ideology over truth and art is always a bad look for artists, in this case, especially in light of the UN’s findings of widespread crimes against humanity committed by the Ortega regime in Nicaragua and the horror show that is Venezuela. The Padilla Affair documents the moment many people started to see the truth. Very highly recommended, it screens tomorrow (5/21) at MoMI.