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The Childhood of a National Hero: José Martí: el ojo del canario

  • Deborah Martin
Chapter
Part of the Global Cinema book series (GLOBALCINE)

Abstract

Fernando Pérez’s biopic José Martí: el ojo del canario (2010, Cuba) deals with the Cuban independence hero’s childhood and youth and is an homage to the place of childhood in Martí’s own thought. It focalises a crucial period in the country’s history—the abolition of slavery and the beginning of the independence struggles—through the eyes of a child, here the young José Martí. This chapter examines the symbolic and discursive interconnections between the film’s depictions of Martí, childhood, and Cuba. It proposes several reasons why the director chooses to focus the film on Martí’s childhood, rather than his adult life: to allow for the humanization and de-iconization of a national hero; to privilege the association between childhood and political insight which was common in Romantic thought, thus evoking the intellectual tendencies of the era depicted; and to invest its representation of nation, and its commentary on contemporary political change in Cuba with the sense of futurity and potentiality traditionally associated with the (male) child. The chapter argues that Martí-as-child protagonist has a special claim on the interiority of contemporary Cuban audiences because of the close affinity that the Cuban state has forged between schoolchildren and the figure of Martí since 1959 through its educational practices. Like many child films, José Martí involves a conversation between past and present selves (Lury in The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairytales. I.B. Tauris, London, 2010a), through its facilitating of dialogue between contemporary spectators and (on the one hand) the historical figure, as well as (on the other) their former selves. This double appeal to the spectator’s own childhood (through the figure of Martí and through the identification with the child protagonist, with whose gaze we are aligned and whose acts of witnessing we share), is also bound up with a sense of loss and nostalgia regarding both Martí and twentieth-century Cuban socialism, perhaps accounts for the extreme emotional reactions of many local audiences on viewing the film. The chapter ends by considering ways in which Pérez’s film resignifies the figure of Martí in relation to issues of contemporary progressive politics, including gender and sexuality.

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Filmography

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  2. Diarios de motocicleta. 2004. Dir. Walter Salles. Argentina, USA, Chile, Peru, Brazil, UK, Germany, France: Film Four, Wildwood Enterprises, Tu Vas Voir Productions.Google Scholar
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  4. José Martí: el ojo del canario. 2010. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba, Spain: ICAIC, TVE.Google Scholar
  5. La vida es silbar. 1998. Dir. Fernando Pérez. Cuba, Spain: ICAIC, Wanda Films.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American StudiesUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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