Strawberry and Chocolate (1994)

Finishing off the Cuban Revolution box (from which we previously saw Memories of Underdevelopment and Lucia a while ago) from Mr Bongo at last. This brings us into more recent times, but the film is still set in the past (as all the films in the set are to some extent or other)… in this instance, 1979, which was no doubt picked cos that was the year Cuba finally legalised homosexuality (although I don’t recall many specific references identifying the exact year beyond a TV report about the deposing of the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza), although I only gleaned that latter detail from other reviews and would not have learned that from the film itself (how that lack of knowledge would’ve affected my reading of the film I don’t know). Our two main figures are Diego and David, two men who could not initially be more different; Diego is a middle-aged gay man of doubtful political convictions, David is younger, straight, and a good Communist who initially uses their chance encounter (when Diego tries to pick him up at an ice cream stand) to, frankly, inform upon him. The more they meet, however, the more the differences between them wear down, as Diego’s greater feeling for culture breaks through David’s indoctrinated ignorance and we learn Diego had initially wanted to contribute to the revolution David believes in, but the revolution didn’t want a homosexual to be part of it. In short, you could glibly sum this up as a “poofs are people too” story, although obviously the Cuban context—the mixof “revolutionary” conformism and Hispanic machismo—gives it a certain resonance it might not have had in quite the same way were it set in the US, for example; as in Memories of Underdevelopment, director Tomas Gutierrez Alea finds plenty of room for criticism of the way the revolution panned out as a less than unmixed blessing for the Cuban people. It’s a small film and I wasn’t hugely blown away by it, but it’s nice enough.

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