I enjoyed a double dose of Cuba-centric cinema at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year when I followed 7 Days in Havana with John Robert’s Day of the Flowers, but the tonal difference immediately distinguishes this comedy from the aforementioned compilation of short stories. The premise is simple: young political activist Rosa (Eva Birthisle) steals the ashes of her late father and travels from Scotland to Cuba with her sister Ailie (Charity Wakefield) in order to spread them at the bridge in Trinidad where her mother and father spent much time together. Of course, her naiveté does not prepare her for losing the ashes to a local scam artist.
Behind the superficial comedy which drives most of the film’s action, there’s also a heartfelt family dynamic, with the distinct differences between activist Rosa and self-indulgent Ailie creating a realistic tension between the siblings, not at all helped by their fighting over comrade Conway (Bryan Dick) in the film’s first act. Soon, though, the focus switches to more important matters: questions over why their father never returned to Cuba; why their late mother spent her final days in another man’s home; and why they know only very little about their parents’ time in Trinidad showing support for the revolution.
contrast is drawn
between what Rosa
expects from the
country and what
she finds there”
Compared to 7 Days in Havana, this film also shows a lot more of Cuba itself: instead of staying firmly seated in the capital, we see not only Trinidad but also the countryside and poorer outskirts of the larger cities. A compelling contrast is drawn between what Rosa expects from the country and what she finds there; she even comes across as somewhat pretentious when she brags about her family relations to high-profile revolutionaries and insists that her sister won’t like the island, and is later led completely up the garden path by a skilled grifter.
In those regards, Day of the Flowers tries just as much to depict everyday life in Cuba as it does to present the story of Rosa and Ailie, and it feels fairly authentic – although I can’t lend much of a personal insight as I’ve never visited Cuba. By the film’s conclusion, so many sprawling story arcs have been explored, intertwined, and concluded, and we’ve been granted the closure which 7 Days in Havana never did, while also being privy to the growth and development of the two main characters and their relationship with each other. Good, well-paced fun.