Friday, March 13, 2009

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Havana Nights posterDirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) is the sequel to 1987’s Dirty Dancing; and while it still maintains the common theme of social-class segregation, where the rich girl discovers her true disposition through dancing with the poor heart-throb, this newer version also introduces the aspect of interracial relationships. It begins with Katey Miller (Romola Garai) reluctantly moving with her family to Havana, Cuba, in her last year of high school because her father was offered a position there through the Ford automobile company. The date is November 1958, and while most girls are thinking about Elvis, Katey is reading Jane Austen and determined to go to college. Katey describes her feelings about coming to Cuba in three thoughts: her high school Spanish will be worthless, Fidel Castro leading a revolution against President Batista, and she doesn’t know anyone. While Katey is an isolated brainiac, her younger sister, Suzie, quickly makes friends with the other displaced American teenagers living in the resort which is their home while in Cuba. James (Jonathon Jackson), the son of Katey’s father’s boss, immediately takes a liking to Katey’s subtle intelligence, but she is constantly ridiculed by the popular socialite Eve. Becoming flustered, Katey accidentally knocks over the tray of a near-by waiter (Diego Luna), spilling all the drinks. Eve mutters, “Stupid spic” loud enough for him to hear as he walks away. Katey is disgusted at this remark, and she quickly looks for the waiter in order to apologize and pay for the drinks. She attempts her shaky Spanish and is met with the defiant response of, “I speak English, and I don’t need your charity.” The next day, Katey misses her bus at school and sees the same Cuban waiter dancing in the street as she walks home, but this time she is drawn to his energy and charm as he dances free-style to the afro-Cuban beats. He soon notices her and, after introducing himself as Javier,offers to walk her home. On the walk, they encounter a street band playing serene music to a crowd of onlookers. Suddenly, Javier attempts to usher a surprised Katey off the street with the explanation that she doesn’t know what the song means, just as dozens of policeman swarm in on the crowd. The two are separated and Katey returns to her resort.

The next day, Katey attempts some of the sexy dance moves she saw Javier use and is mortified when she realizes that he had been watching her the whole time. He invites her to the local club La Rosa Negra, but she reluctantly refuses as she is scheduled instead to be at the country club that night with James. The country club proves to Katey to be a boring replica of American life, minus the striking red dress she borrowed from a hotel maid, and she asks James to take her to La Rosa Negra. In the local club, Katey is spellbound by the thriving mass of flesh before her and chooses to dance the night away with Javier; much to the frustration of James, who is confronted and threathened by Javier’s revolutionary-minded brother, Carlos. James manages to finally steal Katey away and then attempts to make-out with her in his car. Katey slaps James after his sickening attempt to woo her, and dashes back into the club to Javier. The two walk back to the hotel together, unaware that they are being watched by Suzie and Eve. The next day, Javier is fired for ‘mingling with the guests’.

Katey searches for Javier and finds him in a ‘chop shop’ painting stolen cars. In attempts to smooth things over, she suggests that they enter the Amateur Latin Ballroom Dance contest, which Katey had learned about from the resort’s dance instructor (played by Patrick Swayze, the original heart-throb of Dirty Dancing). Javier just laughs because although Katey has dancing background from her parents who used to be professional dancers, she doesn’t exactly have that ‘Latin’ vibe. However, the tempting lure of the $5,000 prize money and a trip to America, which would solve Javier’s family’s economic crisis, gives the pair a reason to start practicing to win. Despite their different dancing styles and frustrations, the two gradually begin to grow closer and attempt to keep their romance a secret from Katey’s parents. Javier divulges to Katey that his father was taken from their home one night by Batista’s police under suspicion of being a revolutionary. Due to all the political unrest in Cuba, Javier proclaims that if they win the contest, he will bring his family to America. The final tweak to their routine comes when the dance teacher informs Katey that she has to connect with her fear of this Latin dancing in order to connect with her partner.

The semi-finals take place at The Palace, a haven of socialites which Carlos refers to as ‘Batista’s Playground’, and Javier and Katey’s romance is revealed to everyone. Although they make it to the finals, Katey’s parents are appalled that she would lie to them. Her mother cannot accept that her daughter is interested in Javier and that she would “kiss a Cuban in front of everyone.” The fight with her mother compels Katey to spend the night at Javier’s where she tells him that she never wants to leave Cuba. The next morning Katey makes amends with her mother and is given the blessing to continue in the contest. Katey and Javier compete last in the finals and are doing a sensational performance, when suddenly Carlos and other revolutionaries, posing as waiters at The Palace, begin shooting guns which creates chaos as everyone runs to the exit. Javier sprints after Carlos and manages to save his brother’s life just as a policeman puts a gun to his head in the deserted kitchen. The two escape and then argue about the morals of the revolution. Their feud is finally dissolved through the compassion of their brotherly bond at the exact moment that a commotion is heard in the streets. The people of Cuba are celebrating that President Batista has fled the country. Javier spends the night with Katey in a beach cabana and in the morning the two of them discuss their future. Katey is disappointed that, due to the revolution, Javier would rather stay in his own country than travel to America. Katey’s family, along with all the other Americans at the resort, decide to leave Cuba for their safety. Katey goes to Javier’s house for a final tearful good-bye. The two proclaim that they will never be without one another in their hearts and begin to sway to a silent beat in Javier’s courtyard. The last scene shows them at the local club with the coveted title of King and Queen of La Rosa Negra.

The blithe plot of this film rides along the spiky ridge of a politically-charged period in Cuban history from November 1958 to January 1959, marking the climax of the Cuban revolution. Katey’s family personifies the many American corporations which took up residence in Cuba while the country was under Batista’s rule. Havana is displayed through their eyes as a foreign playground for the rich; and although Katey is able to dive into the rich Cuban culture, the rest of the ‘gringos’ keep a racial division via their segregated resort. The opposite Cuban image is embodied in Carlos, an active member of the revolution’s uprising. His comments add texture to the motivation behind the common people against Batista. Javier’s life displays a young man striving to sustain his family and culture in a country where there’s “not such a thing as ‘just singing’ anymore”. The plot places America as an architect in Batista’s evil rule, due to the earlier trade relations between the two countries. Albeit that the main characters attempted a mixing of races with their love affair, in the end they do not win the dance competition and they cannot stay together, signifying the separation of relations between Cuba and America post-revolution. The movie may state at its opening that the events are based on a true story, but this is accurate only when viewed on the larger stage of the political dance of that era between the U.S. and Cuba.

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