21 February 2017

MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT. (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

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MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (MEMORIAS DEL SUBDESARROLLO). (1968) BASED ON THE BOOK BY EDMUND DESNOES. WRITTEN BY TOMAS GUTIERREZ AND EDMUND DESNOES. DIRECTED BY TOMAS GUTIERREZ ALEA. STARRING SERGIO CORRIERI AND DAISY GRANADOS. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © 

I wasn't sure what to expect from this film before I watched it. For a kick-off, the title made it sound like a documentary and, indeed, there's a lot of real-life footage in the film of protests and political events that took place in the turbulent Cuba of the 'Nineteen-Sixties where our film is set. It's not really a documentary though, and the more the lead character Sergio drew us carefully yet almost casually into his life, the more entranced I became. Let me see if I can explain myself.

Sergio is a thirty-eight-year-old male living alone in Cuba. His parents and wife Laura both left the country after the political event known as the 'Bay Of Pigs,' leaving Sergio alone, although it was Sergio's own choice to stay behind. I had to research the whole 'Bay Of Pigs' thing, as Cuban history isn't my natural forte, as you might say. Here's what I managed to uncover.

In a nutshell, it refers to a failed military invasion of Cuba by some guys who called themselves the DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTIONARY FRONT. These were Cuban exiles who'd left Cuba for the United States when Fidel Castro took over. Trained and funded by America's CIA, they were hoping to overthrow Castro, but Castro's own forces defeated them within three days.

The failed invasion actually served to strengthen Castro's position and also relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union, who at the time were fighting the Cold War against the Americans. The whole thing was a major embarrassment for US foreign policy, you might say, and it eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It's against this background of political unease and unrest that we meet our handsome protagonist, Sergio.

He has a gorgeous 'rich guy' apartment and money to splash about, since at the age of twenty-five he was given a fancy furniture shop by his Dad. I think he's a landlord too, living off his rents so he doesn't need to go to work in the traditional sense. Privileged boy, eh...?

He has aspirations towards being a writer, but we never see him pick up a pen. He has friends and strolls around the city a lot, inwardly pondering his life and the meaning thereof, as well as his pet obsession, the ways in which Cuba seems 'underdeveloped' to him, certainly in comparison to his beloved Europe.

Sergio loves culture and books and paintings and sex. He seems to value sex more than a meaningful relationship with a woman. As the film progresses, narrated by Sergio himself (the actor playing him is also called Sergio, and a full decade younger than the character he's playing), we find out that his relationship with his wife Laura was a toxic one with as much turbulence in it as Cuba's political climate, and that she'll most likely never come back to Sergio. We learn a lot more about our leading man besides.

We find out that his cleaning lady's Baptism (as a grown-up woman and not as a child) fascinates him because he sees it almost as something sexual. We observe that he's had a relationship with a much younger woman called Hanna whom he actually seemed to love and whose absence in his life he mourns. We also learn that his first sexual experience was in a whorehouse at the age of thirteen.

We see that he thinks about women frequently, objectifying them and even commenting that they go from 'ripe' to 'rotten' almost overnight once they reach a certain age. He's possibly not an easy protagonist to like, this Sergio, but he's certainly a fascinating and complex one.

The relationship of his we see in the most detail is with Elena, a stunning-looking young would-be actress whom Sergio charms by telling her she has 'beautiful knees' and by giving her some of the dresses Laura left behind her. Some women sure are easily pleased.

It's obvious pretty quickly that Elena is reading way more into their relationship than Sergio is, and when he gives her the old heave-ho, she pulls the dirtiest trick on him that a woman can pull on a man... a phoney claim of rape...

I love the scene where Sergio, wanting to fill the ignorant Elena with the culture he adores,
takes the seventeen-year-old (yep, he likes 'em young!) beauty to the house where writer Ernest Hemingway used to live and work and which had obviously been turned into a museum by that stage.

They take a tour of the house and Elena, no more than a child really, is not remotely touched by the aura of writerly inspiration the place holds, unlike Sergio who's lapping it up.

We're shown the table where Ernest Hemingway actually sat down to write. Well actually, that's incorrect because he only ever stood up to write, if you can imagine anything so uncomfortable, and he never wore shoes either while in writer-mode. I don't mind the no-shoes thing, but my butt needs to be snugly ensconsed on a chair before I can write a single syllable. That's a real deal-breaker, that is. Comfy chairs or else.

This marvellous film, which incidentally is viewed by many critics as the most sophisticated film to ever come out of Cuba and also one of the best political films ever made, is out on release on 20th February 2017, thanks to MR. BONGO FILMS and AIM PUBLICITY. 

Speaking of acclaim, of which the movie incidentally garnered loads, the director was actually denied entry to the US back in 1970 to pick up some awards he'd won for the film, the reason being the political hostilities between Cuba and America at the time.

I'd definitely recommend this film to anyone looking to challenge themselves cinematically a little bit. It's not BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, but then again BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY isn't always what we need. Sometimes we need a little more. MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT is just that.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com