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VIVA CUBA, Cuba’s submission to the Academy Awards, begins with children playing war. It’s a boy’s game—and things quickly disintegrate when an argument erupts over whether a gunshot killed or merely grazed one of the hostiles. It’s all innocent fun, and when director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti adds sound effects of real gunfire into the mix, the film assumes the anarchic mood of Vigo’s ZERO FOR CONDUCT and aspires for the New Wave spirit of Truffaut’s 400 BLOWS.

At its core however, VIVA CUBA is a children’s film, a fairy-tale ROMEO & JULIET about eleven-year-old best friends Jorgito, one of the boys, and Malu a girl who lives across the street, who takes on the role of queen during the battle—calling the shots rather than engaging in the petty battles.

Their parents disapprove of their friendship—which at age eleven is innocent—because of issues of class and ideology. So the two run away for a HUCK FINN-style adventure. But whereas Twain crafted his adventure to skewer and satirize specirfic aspects of American culture, this cross country foray serves to showcase an idealized Cuba.

SMILING IN A WAR ZONE, a doc in which Danish performance artist, and amateur pilot, Simone Aaberg Kaern attempts to bring freedom to an Afghan girl, in the form of flight. In the wake of 9/11, Kaern is dismayed by the decision to close so much airspace. If the act of flight is liberating, and the sky is freedom, Kearn argues that closing the skies perpatuates an atmosphere of fear.

After she reads an article about a young girl in Kabul who dreams of someday becoming a fighter pilot (in hopes of bombing the Taliban), Kaern decides to visit her, by flying her forty-year-old Piper Colt cross continent through Turkey and Iran and finally into war torn Afghanistan.

At its best SMILING IN A WAR ZONE is an exhilarating experience showcasing Kaern’s unflappable determination to complete her impossible voyage. In her relic of a plane, the journey took months to complete. At her most desperate moment, when her visa in Iran has expired, but she hasn’t received clearance from the U.S. military to enter Afghanistan through restricted airspace, Kearn defies a no-flight order by the U.S. military and goes anyway. Unlike the beginning of VIVA CUBA, this situation is no game. Yet Kearn, and the little Piper that could, take the calculated risk.

Once in Kabul, Kearn’s lofty ideals are grounded by reality.

Turns out that there are already two women fliers within the Afghan military, so her would be pupil will not be the first female pilot in the post-Taliban afghan military.

Further, the young girl in question, optimistic at first, may not have the right stuff (or the stomach) to follow through and become a pilot.

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