MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT
Memorias del Subdesarrollo
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Production Co.: ICAIC
Screenplay: Thomas Gutiérrez Alea & Edmundo Desnoes, from Desnoes' novel Inconsolable Memories
Cinematography: Ramón Suárez
Editor: Nelson Rodriguez
Music: Leo Brower
Musical direction: M.D. Cuzan
Sergio: Sergio Corrieri
Elena: Daisy Granádos
Laura: Eslinda Nuñez
Naemi: Beatriz Ponchora
Rene de la Cruz
Jose Gil Abad
Black & White
Spanish, with Englsh subtitles
The word 'underdevelopment' is meant to be ambiguous; it can refer either to the hero, or to Cuba. The protagonist is an ex-landowner in his late 30's, cultivated, Europeanised. His property has been nationalised, and his wife has run off to Miami. Supported by the Government's monthly compensation cheque, he decides to stay in Havana. Not without sympathy for Castro's Cuba, he finds difficulty in understanding it. He spends time wandering about the streets; he has a brief affair with a young girl that ends in tragi-comedy. The film ends with the 1962 missile crisis: the country is mobilised, and our hero has to face a situation that he finally comprehends is beyond his understanding.
Throughout the film fragments from his past, and from the Batista past of Cuba, well up, giving us a fuller picture of Cuba and the man. The mood is typically Chekhovian, but Alea's technique is anything but old-fashioned. Using tightly-packed crowd shots, he has a genius for zooming in on the face which is significant without being obviously so. There are close-ups when he moves the camera in so close that the image goes into grain; and then even to dots; it may sound tricksy, but it has a thrillingly subcutaneous effect. All the chaos of revolutionary Cuba is thus seen reflected by an uncomprehending mind. It is a brilliant piece of film-making.
- Richard Roud, Sight & Sound, Autumn 1968
Following a troubled history with our Treasury Department, the Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment has finally reached us five years after it was made. It is an ingeniously constructed, quietly eloquent film, whose only and very minor fault is to leave us excessively hungry for more...
The script, from the novel by Edmundo Desnoes, was written by him and the able director Tomás Guttiérrez Alea. A great deal of teeming, multifarious material has been packed into some 90 minutes of running time, giving the film an extremely rich, as it were novelistic, texture. Documentary footage of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the subsequent trials, bits of staged but very realistic cinéma-verité, voice-over interior monologues, flashbacks, clandestinely recorded tapes of marital fracas, brief scenes from the protagonist's fantasy world, overlappings of past and present, television screens showing Castro hurling defiance and U.S. race riots, titles introducing the names of certain characters as chapter headings, short takes nevertheless containing key incidents - these and other devices are intermingled smoothly and often amusingly to give the film the shape of a neatly rolled-up ball made of variously coloured pieces of string: the disparate incidents become unified because they are the constituents of a human life.
The film is daringly free of party-line cant, though its cinematic freedom is more impressive even than its political one. Alea's camera can glide broodingly over the past-ridden accumulation of objects in Sergio's apartment, or dart about the streets to the accompaniment of tart observations by the hero. Its sense of rhythm is matched by its sense of humour, sometimes irreverently reiterating an awkward image on a screen grown obsessive or redundant, sometimes saucily foreshortening an episode that might have used some lingering over. Little discrepancies creep in between images and words; political or social paradoxes are fixed in a verbal or visual epigram...
The acting is always spontaneous yet proficient, whether it is Sergio Corrieri's protagonist quietly and sardonically going to seed, or Daisy Granádos' superficial, silly, ultimately touching little schemer who almost traps him into marriage. There is a sparingly used but remarkably evocative score by Leo Brower, and the black-and-white photography by Ramón Suarez captures equally well the exhausting white heat of the exteriors and the enervating shadowiness of the interiors. If Memories of Underdevelopment lacks a clear resolution, the density of its texture and the very palpability of its aliveness are nonetheless immensely satisfying.
- John Simon, Something to Declare: Twelve Years of Films from Abroad, New York, 1983
Cuba 1961... The airport: reactionaries saying goodbye to their relatives and leaving for Miami; babies crying; a man who looks rather like Paul Scofield and whom we recognise to be the hero of the film that is starting. Not meaning to be callous probably, he wipes the mark of his departing wife's lipstick off his face after she has kissed him goodbye. The piteousness, the concealed loneliness, the irrevocability of farewells at airports, cloaked in the stabbingly practical hospital bustle of such places. The sequence makes you wonder how people ever leave the loved.
The hero, called Sergio, is marvellously played by Sergio Corrieri. The film is the Castro Cuban Memories of Underdevelopment, from a novel by Edmundo Desnoes called Inconsolable Memories. It is one of the very finest, subtlest of Latin-American pictures. Sergio's memories are indeed inconsolable... On the bus back to his apartment, where he makes a living as a landlord, the hero obviously remembers the parting with an intensity that he can barely manage, but then it makes him yawn. Everything happens to him at a distance...
This is a beautifully organized picture in its technique, with the most skillful possible use of voiceover, of newsreel footage of the Bay of Pigs, and of leaps backward and forward in time. The note is sardonic and also immensely affectionate... It is a startling combination in a film made in a revolutionary country, even such a surprising one as Cuba. The film has the lightness of a bird coasting, and a humorous gravity that makes it a piece of work without burden, extending much charity to the stoic hero's hidden distress.
- Penelope Gilliat, The New Yorker, 26/5/73
Alea's film... is an exercise in the fragmentation and dissociation of imagery and representation, as the pre-revolutionary world is dismembered while the cultural shapes of the new have not yet emerged. Of all Cuban films of the 60s it is in certain ways the closest to the ethos of the metropolitan intellectual, a film which portrays the subjective condition of its central character, a kind of intellectual anti-hero in a state of paralysed perceptiveness...
[The filmmakers] set out, says Alea, with the basic intention of making a kind of documentary about a man who ended up alone, and the idea that the vision of reality offered by documentary inserts would strike against the subjective vision of the protagonist. Direct documentary filming, bits of newsreel, photographs, recordings of speeches, filming in the streets with a hidden camera, these were the resources that would be brought to bear... Ultimately the intention was not to reflect reality but to detect a problem, not to soften reality but to bring it alive, even aggressively, even, so to speak, to disturb the peace. Not, one should add, that things in Cuba were exactly peaceful at that moment: there was great revolutionary energy and ideological struggle going on. But there were always people, says Alea, who thought certain things would look after themselves, and these were the same people who tended to believe themselves depositaries of the revolutionary bequest, who spoke of the people as of a promising child and tried to tell others how the child should be spoken to. These people the film, among other things, proposed to aggravate and provoke.
- Michael Chanan, The Cuban Image: Cinema and Cultural Politics in Cuba, London, 1985