La Despedida (The Farewell)

I had the opportunity over the last weekend to watch the short film La Despedida (The Farewell) not once, but twice. I saw it for the first time on Friday, where it ran before a feature-length film on a similar topic, but in my mind outshone its longer companion. La Despedida did not have the higher budget or wider reach, but the way the 35 minute film was composed left a mark on me far clearer than its companion, Overburden, ever could have.

La Despedida is set around one old Cuban man living in a mostly abandoned and impoverished mining town in Cuba. Like the old man, the film is neither fast moving nor well spoken, but what the film lacks in high octane scenes and rich dialogue is more than made up in the beautiful and well put together shots of the old man sitting, bathing, or playing cards with a child. I would guess there are less than 20 lines spoken throughout 35 minutes, but the silence, the sounds of the weather, and the tapping of the old man’s cane, as if he still is using a pick to chisel away at the rocks under his feet, come together in a surprisingly intimate manner. It is hard not to get drawn into the film, studying the old man’s slow gait, his mangled right hand, or his lost medals. Nothing is explained fully enough in the film to give it a story or a plot, but the content in the film evokes a powerful feeling all on its own, without a need for a climax and resolution.

While watching La Despedida, I could not put a finger on what I was feeling, but after the first viewing I realized it was nostalgia. The film is full of it. Every scene in the film could be contrasted with how it was half a century ago, even though there are no flashbacks. The second time I saw the film, I tried to look into the past through the ruined mine, village, and man. If we take ourselves out of the immediate reality of the film, we can imagine the old man walking at a brisk pace in overalls to the entrance of the mine at the beginning of the film, instead of carefully, cane first. We can imagine scrapped mine carts in a pile by overgrown tracks, filled with rock and rolling out of the mountain. We can imagine the old man holding on to his playing cards with a younger, calloused, and intact hand. La Despedida is not a film about the current state of a retired miner, but a meditation in nostalgia – a glimpse into the past through a ruined present. I enjoyed La Despedida immensely, and if it is released in the United States, I recommend it to anyone with patience and imagination.

Author’s Note: I have not found an IMDB listing for the movie; though there are other movies titled La Despedida, I have not found it in a normal Google search. For reference, the director is Alejandro Alonso.

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