It’s not too often that field recording and cinema directly cross over for fairly obvious reasons – the main overlap is in the work of recordists to gather a wealth of sounds for foley artists to manipulate, combine and create a sonic bedding for a movie (incidentally, some of Paul Virostek’s thoughts on this are worth reading). Elsewhere, the contemplation or study of the natural sounds of a place usually a) don’t appear without manipulation or enhancement and b) necessarily take a back seat to the visual – and to the story.
But Suite Habana might just be the ideal movie for a field recordist to tune into and enjoy. It’s a slow, almost wordless contemplation of life in Havana: a film like few others. There’s no plot to speak of, no development – the film just lets life in Havana unfurl at its own pace, and lets life in the city speak for itself through ten ordinary Cubans. That’s not to say there’s no drama or emotion, as everyday life brings with it everything from isolation and melancholy to hopes, dreams and joy. It’s the interaction between sound and image that brings out the stories, and the emotional impact of these resilient people tackling life in a beautiful but difficult place to live.
Just listening to the soundtrack without images as I am while typing this is hugely evocative – from market scenes and the sounds of bustling Cuban streets, drifting into gentle piano and synths overlaid over an end-of-day rainstorm, the film works as a single sonic piece almost as well as it works as a film. Some achievement when you consider its primary function seems to be as a visual contemplation of life in the city.
Though of course the film is very closely and intentionally edited, there’s enough of the randomness of daily life to suggest at times the visual equivalent of a field recording. And that’s the brilliance of it: to make you feel like you’re just an observer wandering through Havana on a normal day, to make the edited version feel unedited and all-inclusive.
The perfect movie for a field recordist, then, and as close as I’ve seen to a natural visual document of a place.
Watch the film below.