Monday, April 10, 2017

SFFILM ’17: Tania Libre

Even one minute without censorship is too long for the Castro regime. In her work Yo Tambien Exijo, performance and installation artist Tania Bruguera invited participants to come forward and enjoy one completely uncensored minute at the microphone. At least that was the idea. The Castros’ secret police swooped in before things could get . . . free. After several re-arrests and eight months of interrogation, Raul Castro finally released Bruguera, allowing her to return to New York. Recognizing she carried a lot of emotional baggage, Bruguera sought out the counsel of a trauma specialist, Dr. Frank Ochberg. Their conversations provide the guts of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Tania Libre (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Whether they are performances or clinical sessions, Bruguera reveals a lot of truth while talking to Dr. Ochberg. Of course, given the nature of her art, Bruguera is probably always performing to some extent. Either way, the artist frankly discusses some understandably painful topics when gently prodded by the psychiatrist. Dr. Ochberg is one of the pioneers in treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress and the Stockholm Syndrome, both of which apply to Bruguera’s case. She also suffers from survivor’s guilt, understanding she was released thanks to international pressure, while the less famous Cubans swept up with her remain incommunicado.

There is indeed real drama that comes out from Bruguera’s talking cure. The circumstances of her imprisonment and psychological manipulation are not pretty, but that is not what really troubles Bruguera. It is the role her father played, as a member of the secret police apparatus, setting her up for what was to come that truly haunts the artist.

Of course, critics question Bruguera’s bonafides as a dissident precisely because she most likely enjoyed some protection due to her family connections. Her anti-capitalist-Occupy rhetoric also makes one wonder how closely she has been paying attention to socialism in Cuba, but, by this point, her commitment to free expression has been established beyond any possible doubt. (Getting a concerned call from Pussy Riot while she was still behind bars also speaks volumes.)

Arguably, the random bits and pieces thrown into Tania Libre lessen its impact, especially Bruguera’s embarrassingly 1960s-sounding manifesto of art read by Tilda Swinton. However, Bruguera’s dialogue with Ochberg is often quite provocative. It is easy to imagine the script/transcript repurposed for the stage. Recommended for fans of psychoanalysis films, like David and Lisa and Jimmy P., Tania Libre screens tomorrow (4/11) as part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.