Fernando Pérez's Suite Habana is a lovely and unique work -- a dialogue-free visual and aural tone poem that paints a loving though melancholic picture of 24 hours in the life of Havana, Cuba. Following in the tradition of other great city portraits on film that emulate a musical structure -- such as Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City -- Pérez's "suite" is a more intimate and narrowly focused look at interwoven portraits of a dozen ordinary "habaneros" as they go about their daily lives. Ranging in age from 10 to 97 and identified only -- until the end of the film -- by first name and age, they represent the unseen and unheralded lives of the majority of the population of Havana. Though he employs only music and natural sound to accompany the tapestry of images, Pérez shapes the film with the narrative drive of a fiction film. As the darkness and silence of pre-dawn give way to sunlight and then eventually to the transforming dark of night, so too do a number of these people labor by day and then see their dreams find time for expression only as night falls, when manual laborer, hospital worker, and grandmother become ballet dancer, drag performer, musician, or painter. While the predominant image is one of endurance against hardship and the routine, the idea of "the dream" is woven throughout -- be it the erstwhile national dream of revolution or the personal dream of the individual.
Fernando Pérez is a graduate in Hispanic language and literature from the University of La Habana. A cinema critic for several years for the magazine Cine Cubano and other specialist publications, Pérez received the Casa de las Americas Literary Prize (Cuba) for his testimonial book Corresponsales de Guerra (War Correspondents), about the young filmmakers who reported the Sandinista fight against Somoza. Between 1974 and 1984 he made several documentaries, for which he received various nominations and prizes from international film festivals. His films include Clandestinos (Living Dangerously) (1987), Hello Hemingway (1990), Madagascar (1994), and La Vida es Silbar (Life is to Whistle) (1998).