Memories of Underdevelopment / Memorias del Subdesarrollo

1968, Cuba, 104' DCP
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea · Scenario: Edmundo Desnoes, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea · Photography: Ramón F. Suárez · Montage: Nelson Rodríguez · Glazba: Leo Brouwer · Production: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos (Miguel Mendoza) · Roles: Sergio Corrieri, Daisy Granados, Eslinda Núñez

Our ambivalent protagonist Sergio belongs to a wealthy bourgeois family and wants to become a writer. Although his family and friends fled to America after the revolution, he decides to stay in Havana, feeling just as alienated from the old dying class world as from the new world which is not coming and the price of whose building is nevertheless deeply felt. As Sergio ironically comments, it is easy being a Marxist when you are a millionaire in Paris, like Picasso. This thought-provoking film, based on Edmundo Desnoes’s novel, is the most famous work of the Cuban new wave, resisting unambiguous reading. Temporally the film spans from the American disembarkation in the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban crisis in 1962 and is imbued with a feeling of anxiety and pertinence of the nuclear zeitgeist. Sergio existentialistically questions the world around him, feeling detached from the revolutionary heritage, as well as from the values advocated by his bourgeois family. He refuses to flee to the States and in solitude he finally has the freedom to delve deep into his conscience and find his place in the underdeveloped Cuban society. However, his hesitation and passivity seem only to grow as the film progresses, culminating in the meltdown scene when he puts his wife’s pantyhose over his head and roams around his once luxurious and now slightly shabby apartment. He spends most of his time trying to mould teenager girl Elena to resemble his ex-wife – carnal pleasures occupy him more than daily politics. As his compatriots are getting ready for action in the era of Cuban crisis apogees, Sergio can only observe them from a distance through his binoculars. Is he yet another passive intellectual too self-engrossed to care about social justice? Or is social justice just another name for substituting one social elite with another? This politically open piece is a refined psychological study of the alienated individual trying to cope amidst social changes, made in the manner of Antonioni’s tetralogy on the unease of modern life. An island is a trap and fear of underdevelopment is haunting and paralysing because “we are too small and too poor, and the price of dignity is too high”. The answer to the question about the role of the individual in revolution remains stranded somewhere on the open sea, where our Sergio (channelling Camus’s Summer, but on the other side of the tropics) lives “surrounded by threats in the heart of royal happiness”. Finally, what is so wrong about Elena loving bolero?