Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Movie Review - Havana Motor Club: An Exploration of Cuba's Sociopolitcal Evolution Through Drag Racing
The relationship between Cuba and the United States has taken an interesting turn in recent weeks with President Barack Obama's recent meetings with Raul Castro in hopes of bettering the two nations' relationships.
But Cuba's newfound relationship is the result of an internal transformation by the nation itself; a transformation that is showcased in Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt's "Havana Motor Club."
Emphasizing drag racing, the film takes a small cultural event and extrapolates it to the nation's sociopolitical evolution. We get an introduction about Cuba's history with the sport and Fidel Castro's regime banning it due to its association with the Batista era.
But then we see the perspective of numerous racers who love racing and are looking for ways to overcome the dictatorship's stringent dismissal of the sport. And here is where the film really sets the stage on both micro and macro level.
We see the living conditions of all the major characters, their occupations and how this relates to driving. Piti was diagnosed with cancer and knows that it could come back at any moment. Jote, arguably the most tragic character in the story, tells us of how he feels the need to leave Cuba. Later on, he recounts his numerous failed attempts in detail while also explaining that each attempt was financed by his race car, the "Black Widow." Once he decides to stick around, he looks for a way to get his car back in action and purchases an new engine with all of his savings. What follows is one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the film. And while it is hard to watch, one has to credit Perlmutt and company for not shying away from showing the difficulties and failures experienced by its main characters. This may ultimately be an uplifting film, but it is not without its harsh moments.
All the men work on their own cars, often showcasing them not only as savvy mechanics, but also as children who salivate at the newest machinery and get into bouts over which guy has the better toy (or car). There is nothing like watching the men taunt one another on the race track or even watching how they take to extremely subjective perspectives during a tie racing, neither side of the party willing to admit defeat graciously.
And yet, despite the competitive strokes of every man, there is a general sense of community felt throughout. These men might be racing one another, but we actually spend more time watching them work on each others' cars, going to club meetings and having a good time together. It presents a world that while contentious on the racetrack, could not be more united in its desire to succeed together.
As the men get closer to their goal, the story introduces reforms from the Raul Castro regime and also showcase changes coming to Cuba. We see small businesses. We watch the main characters salivate over new cars. And while things are looking up, there are still difficulties to overcome.
The climax of the film is beautifully executed with the tension ramped up in a way that no fiction film could possible top. And the moment of truth is quite impactful as well in its suspense and the awe it inspires. You simply cannot make up what happens at that finish line.
On the surface, "Havana Motor Club" might seem like a movie for niche audiences with an interest in drag racing. But the film is a historic document that allows viewers an opportunity to explore a nation that has maintained itself cut off in many respects from the rest of the world. Through the film, this world is opened up through its people who work every day for dreams and goals that many of us take for granted in our daily lives.