White Chronicle for a Black Film

El Trono del Rey is a film authorized and confirmed by Eleggua, the orisha that opens and closes the paths. The deity that decides where to walk and which paths to avoid. The entity that allows one to move forward or prevents one from moving somewhere. He is the orisha of the possible and the impossible, that is how I see him, also as the orisha of movement and stagnation. It is dual as this film that the Italian director and editor Matteo Faccenda wants to shoot in Cuba.

The planned story fluctuates between Western rationalism and magic, between the disbelieving present and the mythopoetic past, and proposes a marvelous real territory —or magical-realistic, but I have always preferred Carpentier— where linear and rigid chronologies are diluted in a zone of confluences, inclusions, mixtures and infinite possibility. A melting pot zone where cultural zones dissolve.

Cultures and civilizations also dissolve in the film: the Italian director and cinematographer, the Brazilian art director, the Cuban scriptwriter and actors, some white, others black, and above all the wide spectrum of miscegenation framed between the two reductionist extremes.

‘El trono del rey’. A thriller blessed by Eleggua.

El Trono… is a film that will take place in the city, but at the same time it is a film of the bush. It is a film about the resilience of the mythical, secret bush, with all its invisible ancestral powers, in the face of the thrust of the straight and dry thickets of urban arrogance.

The buildings rise on what was once a jungle, the paved streets, with their aggressive asphalt, are placed on top of the primordial “tracks” and paths. What belongs to the jungle will return to the jungle. The jungle endures among the bricks, concrete, tiles and wood; among the contempt, marginalization and enlightenment arrogance of European colonialism.

Because the jungle is flexible, patient, ductile, subtle, and the city has weak foundations compared to it, whose foundations penetrate the earth to the most unfathomable depths of the physical and astral world. The jungle is a universe within the universe, and is infinite as the universe. Its deities, spirits, disembodied beings are transtemporal, not measured by the yardsticks of enlightened reason. When entering the bush, as well as the streets that it has been recovering with its magical effluvia, little resistance can be made to it from rational standpoint.

The neighborhoods and alleys of black Havana are closer to the arcane jungles than to the first-world urban asepsis. The communion with the reigning powers in the thicket is renewed every day in the streets of the sad city, the capital of all the hardships of the Cubans, the muzzled city.

Therefore, to tell this story of wanderings towards oneself, of self-recognition and self-discovery, a story of a journey that is also a story of a return to faith, to magic, to the subtle world of the spirits, the permission of Eleggua was sought, who will also be referred to and paid homage to in the film. An ebbó performed by the priest Danileyde Quirós, “Dani,” revealed that Eleggua authorized the filming, but demanded a party without drums, a tribute whose music would be that of the jungle, whose songs would be those of the essential powers that nestle in its thickets.

Matteo Faccenda, part of the cast of the film, including actors Reynier Morales and Carmen Ruiz, and part of the production team, along with Dani, Alexander Hall, a scholar on the Mambí general Quintín Banderas and son of Eleggua —Dani is also a son of Eleggua— along with the community manager Mayté Madruga and myself, went to the bush. Others could not go, because they were in other countries. Matteo went to fulfill Eleggua’s request, addressed exclusively to him, but in which anyone who wished could participate and celebrate.

I went out of duty and also out of curiosity, as an act of return to the ghosts of my past, which again and again insist on redirecting my steps towards the bush and its mystical paths. I came to start writing about a film that does not yet exist, even though it has been shot and projected a thousand times in the minds of its creators. And writing about a film that does not exist, that I do not know if I will enjoy or not, if it will be a summit or a cataclysm, is definitely an act of faith, of trust in the complex dialectics that led Marta María Ramírez, the head of the crowdfunding campaign of the film, to offer me to write this blog.

I am the grandnephew of the babalawo Roberto Rojas Marín, who belonged to the hierarchy of “El Cristo” Society in Palmira, Cienfuegos, one of the epicenters of Cuban Santeria. And the conversation I had with him ages ago, in which he offered to initiate me in the cult of the orishas as a babalawo, is one of the most perennial memories that return again and again to the surface of my memory. Sometimes I see it as a coincidence, sometimes as a sign, sometimes as a possibility that my life would have been very different from what it is now.

I refused then because I do not like to embrace a single mystical system, as I think they are all manifestations of an essential and transcendent unnamable force, which needs to be named, and has been named according to the cultural circumstances of different religions and mystical philosophies. That is why I preferred to read about theosophy, Rosicrucianism and other mystical tendencies, rather than go into the jungle that my uncle offered me. And now I arrived (returned?) to that jungle, where for the first time I witnessed a spiritual session, where a “dead man” divined my thoughts, talked to me, consulted me, gave me advice for my future and well-being.

He divined the thoughts and pasts of several of those present, he consulted them, he offered them prophecies of fortunes and misfortunes. He prophesied Matteo’s success with the film. He added his ancestral forces, without time or space—for he belongs to spheres beyond the dimensions recognized by science and Western thought—, to the foundations of the filmic throne he is trying to erect and consolidate.

The ceremony took place in a place called Ojito de Agua, near San Antonio de los Baños, where Matteo graduated as an editor at the International Film and TV School, and where the day before he had shot for almost 24 hours the audiovisual capsules that will be used in the crowdfunding campaign. According to Dani, Eleggua did not mark a specific place for the celebration, but upon arriving at the ruinous and at the same time aggressively beautiful place, a quick search made him decide that the right place was the house of Roberto Echavarría —another son of Eleggua— who channeled the spirit of the one he calls Taita Julián.

Ojito de Agua, San Antonio de los Baños (Photo: Antonio Enrique González Rojas).

Roberto is an old man whose smooth skin belies his age, and he lives in a tiny house where it is almost unthinkable that he could even fit a bed. He was the custodian of Ojito de Agua, which, judging by its remaining ruins, was once a sort of distinguished river resort. Now it is a watery surface colonized almost entirely by aquatic plants and a pile of rubble. But Roberto lives in an area which a quick glance made me compare to a crossroads, a space of confluence, perhaps a node of ley lines, similar to what must be located in areas of the mountainous Topes de Collantes. In that place there is no reception, so we were all free for a few hours from our cell phones, which were reduced to simple watches, recorders or cameras. But any message that could get through would have to wait.

Roberto lives in a brief island on the edge of the bush, a frontier area, full of birdsong, which seemed to be sung to the rhythms of his rituals. Upon arrival he assured us that his grandfather was a cagüeiro, a protean being of Cuban mythical imagery that can change shape at will, becoming different plants or animals of the bush. With skill and storytelling charm, he recounted at lightning speed some of the adventures of his mutant grandfather, his bush grandfather.

Roberto Echavarría and Reynier Morales in Ojito de Agua (Photo: Antonio Enrique González Rojas).

Once the altar was set up, where Dani’s and Roberto’s Santeria-related paraphernalia were combined, Roberto was possessed by the Taita. At the first sip of rum, the old man suffered a subtle collapse that transfigured his face. He asked for a red handkerchief for his head, a shabby apron with the almost blurred figure of St. Michael the Archangel, and did not open his eyes for more than two hours of session, of omens, predictions, some jokes, and a lot of rum.

He spoke in a dialect mixing Spanish and Jamaican patois. A kind, fluent, pleasant language, nothing that showed affectation, if anything, from a totally skeptical point of view, it revealed an excellent actor. But I don’t want to be skeptical, I don’t want to be suspicious, for once in my life. Suspicion and skepticism are acts and strategies of resistance that I have applied all my life, but this prophetic party of Eleggua—he did not ask for drums that could have hindered what only he knew would happen—did not call for resistance, nor for the easy and cathartic trance.

The Taita did not assault anyone nor did he ask them to bow to anything, nor did he ask them to receive in themselves something divine. Neither did he threaten anyone with eternal punishments or sinful temptations from the devil, nor he demanded absolute obedience to an absolute God. He only foretold possible destinies, invisible presences behind our backs —the second time I was in direct contact with him he shuddered at something shadowy he sensed behind me—, he offered ritualistic formulas for clearing up difficulties. He cleaned everyone with wet broken branches take from the surrounding vegetation, and wished us well. He joked, laughed mischievously, asked for lots of rum, cigarettes, and claimed he has been disembodied, dead, for 105 years.

El Trono del Rey is a film that is located on the exact border between reason and magic, and the campaign that will determine its definitive destiny began in a space equally located on the same border between civilization and the marvelous barbarism of the bush, obedient to other laws not written by humans of colonizing and enlightening breath, but by other humans or non-human beings, who read the world in the thicket, in the sacred geometry of the jungle, in the golden spirals traced by the vines.

El Trono del Rey needs the human and the gods, the living and the dead, the rational and the divine, because in addition to narrating a path, of needing Eleggua to open the paths, it seems to be a path in itself along which I have just begun to walk with my personal and historical past on my shoulders and also with my future.

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ANTONIO ENRIQUE GONZÁLEZ ROJAS
ANTONIO ENRIQUE GONZÁLEZ ROJAS
Antonio Enrique González Rojas (Cienfuegos, 1981). Journalist and art critic. He has published books of fiction and film criticism, among which are: Voces en la niebla. Un lustro de cine joven cubano (2010-2015) (Ediciones Claustrofobias, 2016) and Tras el telón de celuloide. Acercamientos al cine cubano (Editorial Primigenios, 2019).

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