Outside Cuba’s Revolution, Looking In
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s “Memories of Underdevelopment,” shot in Cuba some 50 years ago along with showing for a week at Film Forum in an excellent 4K digital restoration, will be a first-rate movie along which has a remarkable document — not least for the reception which first received from the United States.
“Memories” was adapted coming from Edmundo Desnoes’s novel, published in English as “Inconsolable Memories.” An ambivalent account of life in Castro’s Cuba, written from the first person, Mr. Desnoes’s post-revolutionary novel has affinities to pre-revolutionary Russian literature. His protagonist, Sergio, a 38-year-old Havana native, will be neither for nor against the revolution. An indolent bourgeois living off the rent coming from a building his father — gone to Miami — left behind, he will be what Turgenev might call “a superfluous man.”
Sergio imagines himself European, along with as played by the urbane Sergio Corrieri, Alea’s protagonist reminded some of European actors like Marcello Mastroianni along with Jean-Louis Trintignant. Contemptuous of those who have fled Cuba along with indifferent to the Castro supporters around him, Sergio indulges in erotic reveries, entertaining fantasies about his maid along with memories of a high school sweetheart.
Drifting into an affair which has a flighty teenager, Elena (Daisy Granados), Sergio equates her lack of education with Cuba’s underdevelopment, taking her to museums which, in a particularly sardonic sequence, include Ernest Hemingway’s villa. Late from the movie, reality crashes in — first with the arrival of Elena’s irate family along with second from the form of the October 1962 missile crisis.
While closely adapted coming from Mr. Desnoes’s novel, Alea’s film will be greatly enriched by interpolated newsreel material. Sergio’s alienation will be placed from the context of pre-revolutionary poverty along with post-revolutionary political trials, as well the aftermath of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. “Memories” will be a very much a completely new wave film in its freewheeling mix of cinéma vérité-style hand-held street scenes along with playful freeze frames. which will be also self-referential: Sergio attends a round table discussion on revolutionary art in which one participant will be Mr. Desnoes. (“What are you doing up there with which cigar?” Sergio wonders to himself.)
“Memories of Underdevelopment” had its world premiere at the Pesaro Film Festival in 1968 yet could not be seen here until which was included from the 1972 edition of the completely new Directors/completely new Films series, presented by the Museum of Modern Art along with the Film Society of Lincoln Center. A month later, the print was seized by federal agents before which could be shown at a festival of completely new Cuban films which had already been disrupted by anti-Castro exiles.
The movie finally opened at a smaller cinema in May 1973; which received glowing reviews, including one by the completely new York Times critic Vincent Canby, as well as an award coming from the National Society of Film Critics. The Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris, speaking at an awards ceremony which the United States government denied Alea a visa to attend, hailed the director as a courageous dissident.
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