Saturday, March 24, 2007
“Dame La Mano (Give me your hand)”
Review by Dan Tres Omi
As an avid watcher of documentaries, this writer has experienced movies that have been moving. Some were inspiring. Some stirred emotions that can only be described as outraged. Quite a few have moved audiences to tears. One rarely finds one that is beautiful. In Dame La Mano, directed by Heddy Honigmann, we find a wonderful group of people who carve out a home in the often strange and overwhelming country of the United States. Instead of narrating, Honigmann allows each person to tell their story.
The documentary centers around the Afro Cuban music Rumba. Before the time of Castro, Americans were simply in love with this genre. All one has to do is remember Desi Arnez in I Love Lucy. Honigmann focuses on a little restaurant in New Jersey called La Esquina Habanera. Every Sunday, Cuban exiles get together to sing and dance the rumba.
Honigmann sets up the viewer in a unique way. She allows each person to show how they contribute to the music and how the music has helped them survive the cold winters of the United States. Instead of showing a live rumba session from the beginning, she gives us bits and pieces. We go from one person's work station to an Afro Cuban dance class to a kitchen to someone's backyard and finally to the Sunday rumba session. The pieces of the puzzle all fit and give the audience a bigger picture. In other words, Honigmann introduces the audience to rumba wholistically.
The viewer will laugh, cry and be mesmerized. The singing is just phenomenal. Every person pays homage to their ancestors and Africa. In one scene, the owner of La Esquina and his colleague recall their time in prison and how they learned some rumba songs there. They even demonstrated how they were able to do this. The owner took a spoon and a big cup to use as a clave while his friend used a plastic bucket and then went to town. These two O.G.'s just sat back and sung songs of old. This scene was heartwarming.
It was amazing to learn the ages of several of these people. They explained that it was the rumba that kept them young and vibrant, the latter being an adjective they used to describe the feeling they had. One person even described how she beat cancer through rumba. The final session was worth waiting. They sang songs to the orishas and then began to party. Each person in the room shared themselves on the dance floor. It was one of those documentaries that one wished never ended.