Humberto Solas Borrego was an emblematic figure of Cuban cinema and Spanish language cinematography
Humberto Solas Borrego was born in Havana on December 4, 1941. Early on he appeared as a young maverick, rebellious, and at fourteen he joined a unit of action and sabotage belonging to the July 26 Movement. He graduated in History from the University of Havana. Marked by the Italian neo-realism and the French Nouvelle Vague, he began working at ICAIC in 1960.
At 23, he traveled to Europe and became aware of the need for a new artistic approach to Latin American and Cuban reality. His short film Manuela (1966) gives examples of this. Solas, influenced by the aesthetics of Italian neo-realism, gave the leading role to Adela Legrá a no professional actress who achieved a fresh and sincere interpretation, in her character of guerrilla girl.
In 1968 he directed his first picture, Lucia, considered by critics worldwide as one of the ten most important films in the history of Latin American cinema.
In 1972 he made A Day in November, although its release came six years later. This film proved controversial because the family moved within different political perspectives and confronting issues such as migration and material scarcity; also it featured a protagonist who, having been a member of the subversive struggle against the government of Fulgencio Batista, reviewed, with the possibility of dying from disease, its past and present purposes. Music, one of the most subtle of Cuban cinema, was composed by Leo Brouwer.
Followed by a period of intense documentary making: Simparelé (1974), Be born in Leningrad (1977), and Wifredo Lam (1979). By that time he also created Cantata de Chile (1975), a film about the Chilean people and their struggles, built as a choral work. Solas made in the eighties several historical films. The first was Cecilia (1981-1982), a film in two parts, which is based on the novel Cecilia Valdés or La Loma del Angel (The Angel Hill), by Cirilo Villaverde. Cecilia received many criticisms by the free approach that the director had allowed a classic of Cuban literature; however, the historical setting and photography by Livio Delgado, and the inclusion of Afro-Caribbean elements and reflection on the nineteenth-century Cuban society make it a work of weight in Cuban cinematography.
A year later he directed Amada, in collaboration with Nelson Rodríguez, renowned editor with whom he had worked before. The film is based on the novel The sphinx by Miguel de Carrión, and tells the story of a married woman who must decide between his passion for his young cousin and prejudices of the conservative society of the early Republic.
The thirties and forties frame the plot of his next film, A Successful Man (1986), which was the first Cuban film Oscar candidate for Best Foreign Film. Solas demonstrated its realization that it was possible to make a high-quality visual film with few resources. The protagonist, a young pretender, ambitious and unscrupulous, embarks on a brilliant political and social career, without stopping at the cost of your company. The film was awarded the Coral Grand Prix in the eighth Festival of New Latin American Cinema.
In the early 90s, Humberto filmed Age of Enlightenment, film adaptation of the romance by Alejo Carpentier. After this series of historical films, Solas worked on contemporary reality. Honey for Oshun (2001) and Barrio Cuba (2005) are dramatic representations of various conflicts, common to much of the Cubans in the early twenty-first century. The emigration, loneliness, family reunions, the love conflicts, the trust in the syncretic religion, serve as themes for the configuration of the characters. Humberto Solas’s work is a constant search in the Cuban nationality, represented in his film from different angles and times, characters and stories.
He was the manager, founder and president of the International Festival of Poor Cinema of Gibara, a project which aims to encourage and promote a creative and low budget film, away from the dominant commercial paths in international cinema. The Festival is now named after his physical disappearance as a posthumous tribute to its founder, International Festival of Poor Cinema “Humberto Solas”.
In 2005 he received the National Film Award. He died in Havana on September 18, 2008.