Pavel Giroud has been called "the Cuban Truffaut". Although he insists Truffaut’s work hasn’t actually influenced him, he acknowledges a mutual interest: Alfred Hitchcock. "I like suspense to move the story along," Giroud says. He also likes the way Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-wai use colour, and how Sergio Leone uses sound as a dramatic element.
Yes, Pavel Giroud seems well on his way to taking his place among the world’s cinema greats, but don’t worry — the irony is not lost on him. When you meet him you’ll understand. He seems permanently ready to share in a laugh, even if the joke’s on him. For all the accolades he has been receiving at the world’s film festivals, for all his grand filmmaking ambitions, Giroud steers clear of artistic arrogance with natural ease. Probably because he is at heart a genuine artist.
Giroud, 35, studied design in Havana’s Instituto Superior de Diseño. He had some vague plans to work in an advertising agency or maybe theatre or cinema as a graphic designer, but these notions left him as soon as he got his diploma. "I realised I lacked sufficient talent to make it as a graphic designer," he says. So he veered off into making paintings. Some of his canvasses, especially the later ones, hang on the walls of his elegant apartment in Havana’s Vedado neighbourhood. ("I haven’t painted anything for ten years," he says.)
Gradually he managed to accompany his paintings with video installations, with the emphasis on irony. Fake TV spots, fake narrative films... Then irony got the upper hand. The advertising business was beginning to take off in Cuba and someone from an ad agency approached Giroud about making a film for a Cigar brand. He accepted, and discovered he liked advertising after all. With the money from his ad work he started making short films.
For these first shorts Giroud handled pretty much everything himself -- scriptwriting, camera, sound, telling actors who weren’t actors how to act. Bigger projects, bigger budgets and bigger successes have left him a bit wistful for those early days. "I miss the spontaneity," he says. "And there wasn’t a lot of fear back then, due largely to my own ignorance. When you don’t know the fall will kill you, you just jump happily off the cliff!"
As he gained recognition for his short features he was asked to direct music videos, and again, he jumped at this new opportunity. "Telling a story in three minutes, the length of a song — how could I refuse?"
The only film poster he has allowed in his apartment is the one for "Todo por Ella", which he made with five friends in 2002. "That film really opened doors for me", he recalls gratefully. Most importantly it led to the excellent "3x2", which won the prize for best first film at the 2004 Montreal Film Festival. "3x2" was a joint effort among three young directors, Giroud along with Lester Hamlet and Esteban Insausti. Each had 30 minutes to portray a love affair. The film opens with Giroud’s "Flash", set in modern-day Havana, where a photographer becomes infatuated with a 1950s fashion model.
Giroud’s first solo flight into feature-filmmaking was "La Edad de la Peseta", which he finished in 2006. It’s the story of a ten-year-old boy ("the silly age" of the title) who enters puberty just as his country’s Revolution is getting under way. Irony alert: Giroud’s first feature is also the only movie he didn’t write himself. "La Edad de la Peseta" was scripted by Arturo Infante, a young screenwriter and himself a movie director.
Giroud went back to his scripting duties for his most recent film, to be called "Omerta". It’s the story of a man who works as a bodyguard for one of Havana’s big mobsters in the 1940s and becomes obsolete after the Revolution. "It’s a story about ageing, and the art of ageing," Giroud says. And for some reason this makes him smile.