Havana (AFP)

Families torn apart, friends moving away, disputes, reconciliations: the wounds inflicted on Cuban society by 60 years of emigration, scarcely healed and still painful, appear on the screens of the 41st Havana, which opens Thursday.

The island, ruled since 1959 by the Communist Party (only authorized), has 11.2 million inhabitants. But more than two million Cubans live abroad, mainly in the United States and Europe.

Many thousands of them are fierce opponents of the government but more than 400,000 come every year to visit.

The thorny issue of these departures and returns is at the heart of two Cuban films in competition at the festival, organized until December 15.

In "Alberto", a short fiction film, Raul Prado tells the dramatic story of a young man who emigrates in 1980 and returns 12 years later, when the country is immersed in the middle of a special period - a violent economic crisis of the 1990s - and swept away by a hurricane.

"Agosto", Armando Capo's first feature film, focuses on the personal experience of the director, a teenager living in the coastal village of Gibara (east) during the great emigration wave of August 1994.

- "An agony" -

Since the revolution led by Fidel Castro, emigration has been an incessant bloodletting in the Cuban population, with two moments of massive exodus: the crisis of Mariel (port of Havana), which saw 100,000 100,000 Cubans leave between April and October 1980, and that of "Balseros" (balsa: raft), when 45,000 others fled in the summer of 1994.

The characters in these two films illustrate each of these crises, which have orphaned those who remained on the island.

"What should be a natural process ends up becoming an agony," AFP Armando Capo, 40, told AFP.

"Your friends are leaving, whether it's for an economic issue or because they want to broaden their horizons, grow professionally, and of course, it gets worse if the country gets worse and worse," he adds. he, in reference to the current difficulties in Cuba, regularly faced with shortages of food and fuel.

The subject is not new in Cuban cinema. Films such as "Memoirs of Underdevelopment" (1968), "Lejania" (1985), "Paginas del diario de Mauricio" (2006) have already addressed it, perhaps less tragically than the works presented this year at the festival.

In just 20 minutes, Raul Prado manages to transcribe, in "Alberto", the fractures caused by the exodus of Mariel within families and groups of friends. Many of those leaving were booed and insulted by other Cubans as they approached.

"What is special in this short film is that in addition to emigration, he talks about its consequences in life, regrets, unspoken," says the producer, Ricardo Figueredo.

- "Negotiation with the past" -

Third film devoted to the subject, "Nieve en el Portal" was presented at the Festival but without being selected. Documentary by the Spaniard Guillermo Barbera, it follows the destiny of Enrique Martinez Celaya.

Enrique emigrated at age seven with his family and returned 47 years later as a recognized American plastic artist and invited to participate in April 2019 in the Havana Biennale.

He then exposes a golden sledge covered with trinkets of all kinds, "made with bits of memory, stories," as he had then explained to AFP.

Faced with the camera, he recounts looking for answers to his "question of identity, the idea of ​​being part of a society, of a country" which accompanied him in thought during all these years: "This kid that I was at six, seven years old is still there (...), waiting for someone to come back and see him ".

In the end, it is for him a "negotiation with the past".

For Antonio Aja, director of the Center for Demographic Studies and Cuba's leading researcher on migration issues, "it makes sense, normal, and I would say positive that cinema, which has such a popular impact, deals with these themes."

"Cuba today needs Cubans to stay in Cuba, do not emigrate, and if they do it temporarily, let them go and come back," he says.

Founded in 1979, this year the festival will feature 21 feature films in competition, from eight countries, as well as 19 short and medium-length films.

© 2019 AFP