Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)

“Third cinema”, as they used to (still?) call this sort of thing, isn’t one of my strong points, so I took the suggestion of James at Title in Surry Hills (when I was there a few months ago) to check out Mr Bongo’s Cuban Revolution set in order to explore at least a few of the better-known titles. Because I’m trying as much as possible to get through the unseen titles on my list I’ll be looking at I Am Cuba later and will be doing the other three films in the box first. This one, apparently, is one of the best known films to have come from Cuba in the 60s, directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea who would appear to have learned a few tricks from Godard; it’s a film that’s light on actual plot and fairly heavy on ruminating. Set in 1961/62, the main figure is a somewhat adrift fellow in his late 30s called Sergio, whose family and friends have all fled for the US, leaving him in Cuba at something of a loss in his marked ambivalence towards the revolution. From what I can gather Alea himself was a good revolutionary, which meant he was in fact the worst sort of revolutionary, i.e. one who still took it seriously after it had succeeded and become just another dictatorship like the one it had displaced. As such he was not uncritical of it, which makes Sergio an interesting figure here, somewhat lost in Castro’s brave new world and hostile to it, a yesterday’s man who is nonetheless treated sympathetically by the filmmaker. Alea presents this man and his world through an array of techniques, dressing up fictional narrative with non-fictional footage, newsreels, speeches by Castro and Kennedy, etc. I thought it was good, if a little dry, and I dare say I’d like it better if I could see it again in a print that wasn’t as beaten up and covered in dust and old-looking as Mr Bongo’s is.

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