Irene Gutierrez on ‘Between Dog and Wolf,’ Cuba, Revolution Legacy

Emilio Mayorga

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A Berlinale Forum player, “Between Dog And Wolf” portrays a real gang of former Cuban guerrillas who hide out and train in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, as if the war and the Revolution aren’t over.

The new docu-fiction feature of Irene Gutiérrez (“Hotel Nueva Isla,” “Diarios del exilio”) is produced by Spain’s El Viaje Films and Cuba’s Autonauta Films and is sold by Tenerife-based Bendita.

Gutiérrez’s works have premiered at the Berlinale, Rotterdam and the MoMA Documentary Fortnight, among other events. As in her other works, “Between Dog And Wolf” veers between intimate portrait and lush landscape, depicting poetically the conflict between individual and establishment dictates.

The film’s protagonists are Estebita, Miguel and Alberto, three former Cuban guerrillas. What attracted you the most to them?

As in “Hotel Nueva Isla,” I am interested in filming living protagonists who built historical processes and now are anonymous heroes for the rest of the world. However, I do not try to depict such historical events; my aim is to focus on reminiscence of that heroic past. The speeches of Estebita, Alberto and Miguel are epic, perhaps because in those same mountains they said farewell to their parents when they stood with Che and Fidel against the dictatorship of Batista. Their wizened faces are the precise symbol of the generation that put the mandates of the Cuban Revolution before their own aspirations as individuals. They represent a way of being in the world that is lost nowadays.

You’ve stated that they participated in the creative process. Tell me how?

I did not know the details about their military lives.  They provided details about their days and nights at the front lines, the daily routines and special missions, the training and survival techniques. I believed that all these actions should be represented in the film as a way of materializing, on the one hand, the big story— Cuba’s participation in the Angola War, which is not very well known outside Cuba— and on the other hand, their specific war stories, a profound experience while young that changed their lives forever. They also proposed scenes and situations while we were shooting.

You display an observational approach. But you go beyond the testimony of three revolutionaries lost in a limbo…

I had just a few certainties at the beginning, but one of them is that we ought to be very close to them all the time, to their very skin, obsessively, in order to be able to see the subtleties of their expressions at each stage of the journey. That way we could understand how the environment gradually transforms them and brings out their contradictions.

The movie can also be understood as an analysis about what has been left of the revolution. Do you agree?

In its broadest sense, the film is an ode to the warrior, to brotherhood, to resistance as a principle of life. And as such, it opens up a subject that goes beyond the Revolution and even Cuba: it portrays a certain spirituality that, regardless of the feasible results and paradoxes of history, no longer exists, at least not in this form. It’s also related to belonging, and on the other hand, a tiredness in with left-wing ideology felt all over the world, the death of leftist ideological tendencies across the globe. Perhaps relief will come from indigenous communities or ecological macro-movements, I don’t know, but now more than ever we need an active and conscious resistance against a savage neoliberalism.

The tone of the movie is mainly meditative, but it also balances sadness and humor…

This is a very Cuban trait, where the tragic and the comic are constantly mixed. There’s a playful element in the lives of these men inserted into the most dramatic facts in a surprisingly natural way. Our three protagonists swing between those two limits, which is why I consider them complete beings. Their secret is their limbo. Like the characters of writer Robert Walser, they are souls beyond perdition and salvation.

Do you think the three guerrillas will change their perception about themselves or their place in history?

I hope so, because that is the ultimate meaning of “Between Dog and Wolf”: to create a portrait that serves as a specific homage to them, and to be able to give them a place in history while they are still alive, with all that they are and that they represent.

Do you have any projects?

Yes, “Orfeo en la frontera” (Orfeo at the Border), a working title and a diptych of two impossible love stories shot in Ceuta, my hometown. My references vary according to each film, from great literary archetypes like “Ulysses” or “Don Quixote.” In this case, I want to work the myth of Orpheus with women who will act as themselves, as characters in the context of the current European migration crisis.

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