Casa Blanca

Aleksandra Maciuszek
2015 | 60 mins
Countries of Production: Poland, Mexico, Cuba
Country Featured: Cuba
US Premiere | Director in Attendance
Friday, October 14 | 4:30 pm | Program F6

In a small port town in Cuba, Nelsa and her son Vladimir, live in bustling multifamily home. Vladimir has Down syndrome and requires the full attention and care of his mother, a patient, elderly head of the household. But when she falls ill, Vladimir—a beloved member in his community who is gregarious and easily gets into trouble—is thrust into a new role. Forced to assume adult responsibilities for the first time and make his own way without his mother’s guidance and support, he struggles with the challenges and ultimately finds fulfillment in everyday chores and caretaking. A poignant coming-of-age film and an intimate family drama, Casa Blanca follows the long and universal arc of the mother-son relationship as it grows and changes.

Co-presented by the Polish Cultural Institute New YorkConsulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, and ReelAbilities: NY Disability Film Festival


Re:Frame, My Perspective

“Our first intuition regarding making a film about Vladimir and Nelsa was to escape the sociologizing and trying-to-be-objective perspectives, which in our view can be limiting in this kind of project. While portraying disadvantaged or underprivileged people, especially people with disabilities, it is quite common that we build our discourse around questions about guilt, causes, or possible solutions to the situation. In  Casa Blanca we wanted to get away from this kind of thinking. While shooting and afterwards editing our film, we were trying to capture a point of view as close as possible to Vladimir’s and Nelsa’s. The questions that we asked ourselves at every level of the production were: ‘What would it be like to be Nelsa?’ ,‘What would it be like to be Vladi?’ And this is the sensation we wanted to transmit to the spectator. We sought to give back to our characters as much subjectivity as possible; subjectivity in the cinematic, narrative sense. They are the ones who initiate action, they are the ones that move it forward. We were seeking to show situations which were above all important to them; however, it’s very possible that someone trying to be ‘objective,’ a social worker, a sociologist, or a journalist, for example, would focus on different events. For us the most important were the emotions of Nelsa and of Vladi: joys, sadnesses, small amusements, and frustrations. And we tried to be quite radical in this approach, so it had some consequences in formal aspects of the film: either Nelsa or Vladi are always within our framing; we never move the camera away from them, even when compelling events happen outside the frame; we work a lot with offscreen dialogue. Thanks to this kind of focus our material could reveal things that were in the beginning totally unexpected, such as this brilliant and ironic sense of humor that mother and son share.

So, on the one hand we tried to avoid sociological simplifications and tried to find our way through the psychology of our characters. On the other hand, we were also interested in what might be called the existential surface of our story—even though it sounds a little bit pretentious. What I mean is that we intended not to overburden this story with content or information, we tried to keep it simple so the viewers can make their own associations both cultural or from their own lives.

I believe that while working with these kinds of ‘sensitive‘ characters—with ‘the others’ whose worlds and realities are simply unknown to the mainstream spectator and thus can be easily subjected to manipulation—the worst enemy is sentimentalism, with its huge capacity to simplify and objectify. The answer might be a conscious creation of complex characters, who are not only victims, but who also have their dark sides and defects. These kinds of characters are more human, and easier for the audience to identify with, and as a secondary goal it’s also a way to change stereotypes.

Finally, I have to add that in addition to the initial question ‘what would it be like to be‘ one of our characters, the second ‘working’ question we asked ourselves frequently, especially during editing, was: how would they like to be shown? In documentary films such as ours, that go so deeply into the intimacy of people, in the end, so strange and different from us—these kinds of simple questions are helpful guidelines.”

—Aleksandra Maciuszek | Director, Casa Blanca