Director Gerardo Chijona liberally name-drops a plethora of Hollywood films in “The Human Thing”: “3:10 to Yuma” (1957), “The Godfather Part 2” (1974), “Terminator 2” (1991), and even ‘The Sopranos.’ One would expect that with such a macho pedigree of visceral violence “The Human Thing” would be some kind of high-octane thriller or cinematic homage. But it’s neither. The film is one of words and literature centered on a story-writing contest. A petty burglar, Maikel (Héctor Medina) decides to enter the contest in order to win its 5,000 dollar-prize and pay off a local mobster named Soave (Enrique Molina) he and his brother are in debt to. His entry is a revised version of Shield and Star, an unpublished manuscript stolen from the house of Justo (Vladimir Cruz), one of Cuba’s greatest writers. Justo also enters the contest, bribing the head official to award him first prize. But for what? The money? Clearly he doesn’t need it. The prestige? His is a household name. Perhaps it’s just the need to prove himself after the metaphorical castration of his latest creative endeavor.
Other films by Gerardo Chijona include “Adorable Lies,” “Un paraíso bajo,” “las estrellas” and “Perfecto amor equivocado.”
I ask these questions because “The Human Thing” isn’t interested in answering them. The film is about the creative process itself and the lengths people will go to in order to appease their inner muses. But it also feels like a deflated bag, robbed of all ambition and momentum. The scenes with Soave, presented as a kind of opportunistic boogeyman, drag on much longer than they should. I suppose Chijona expected Molina’s terrifying presence to carry these scenes, but neither the role nor the performance is up to snuff (even when he’s torturing an underling with a power drill). Numerous sequences that I assume were supposed to be funny like when Justo’s policewoman mistress ties him to a bed and sodomizes him with a vibrator seems out of place or miscalculated. Chalk it to my unfamiliarity with Latin American literature and poetry but it seemed to me that the few snippets of Justo’s work recited in the film sounded either deliberately pompous or calculatingly over-eroticized. Was this another joke–that the emperor doesn’t have clothes?
“The Human Thing” is not particularly stunning to look at, either. Taking into account its name-dropping of films by Stanley Kubrick, Coppola, and Cameron, one would expect something more visually kinetic or exciting. But drab cinematography matches its equally drab pacing, editing, and acting.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nate Hood is Screen Comment’s main film critic in New York. Follow him here @NateHood257