JUST WHEN Fidel Castro thought that the international impact of Armando Valladares's book, Against All Hope, was beginning to wane, along comes the film Nobody Listened. It gives stunning visual credence to accusations of Cuba's human-rights inferno.
Never was the maxim "one picture is worth a thousand words" more accurate. The movie is composed mostly of footage taken recently in Cuba and of filmed testimonies of still-traumatized victims living in exile. It is undisputably the most comprehensive account of 30 years of atrocities under Castro.
After its world premiere here last week as part of the Miami Film Festival, Nobody Listened will open tomorrow in Coral Gables's Arcadia theater. It's also being scheduled by several other well-known world festivals.
Jorge Ulla and Oscar-winning Nestor Almendros, both accomplished artists with prestigious filmmaking credits, crafted this impressive work of art from the pieces of a somber truth. They did well in using the past tense in the title's verb. For after watching this parade of Castro's lacerated victims telling their horror stories, no civilized person true to himself -- of any nationality or race -- could fail to heed the anguish coming from an island only 90 miles from Key West.
'Equal time to Castro'
Ulla takes special pride in the movie's objectivity. "Both Nestor and I made it a special point to produce an impartial, nonsectarian account of the human-rights situation in Cuba," he says. "In trying to achieve such balance, we went as far as giving equal time to Castro himself."
Indeed, the Cuban tyrant is one of the film's main players. He is present, of course, throughout the history-setting scenes. Yet the most eloquent segments reveal the oblique mind of a Castro growing old. They're seen in a recent interview in which the comandante offers his unique concept of two "freedoms" and expresses his views about archenemies Valladares and Ricardo Bofill.
Many other voices are heard throughout the movie, some with highly contrasting tonalities. Since Castro's cruelty spared no one, it ended up wounding people who would ideologically belong on his side. The film picks up prison testimonies by Arnaldo Escalona and his wife, Hilda Felipe, militant Marxists and members for 50 years of Cuba's old Communist Party who now live in Miami.
Though tragedy and despair fill most of Nobody Listened, sprinkles of anecdote and humor serve as welcome oases in a desert of frustrating rage. Ulla himself acts his own role in the amusing initial scenes. He's seen on the phone talking with Cuban film bureaucrats in a fruitless effort to persuade Havana to coproduce the film.
Memories of a tortured son
At the other end, the sight of Pedro Luis Boitel's mother, Clara, sharing memories of the tortured son whom she lost in prison after one of Boitel's many hunger strikes is probably the film's most dramatic moment.
Parts of Nobody Listened are visual firsts. Never before, for instance, have outsiders seen plantados prisoners crunched in their small cells, wearing only their underwear. Also for the first time on film, U.S. viewers can see the infamous "acts of repudiation" of the 1980s, in which "revolutionary" mobs attacked and violently beat would-be emigres on the streets of Havana.
Nobody Listened is, above all, testimony and denunciation. As such, it's the ideal eye-opener for all the naifs who still believe that Castro is a victim of a vicious campaign by Right- wing "imperialists."
Were this film to be shown in the current session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, diplomats from all over the world might finally in unison point an accusing finger to the chamber of horrors floating with impunity in the Caribbean. It would be the ideal award for this outstanding film.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.