Cuban cinema has very infrequently made a dent on the world stage. Before the revolution in 1959, it was largely concerned with straightforward melodramas. The ‘Golden age’ of Cuban cinema began shortly after, and lasted for around a decade. Arguably the most prominent director of this time was Tomas Gutierrez Alea. He was an infrequent, yet active, filmmaker until the mid-1990s. His most famous film, and possibly Cuba’s greatest, is Memories of Underdevelopment.
Despite the love of his life, his wife Laura (Beatriz Ponchora), and many of his friends and family fleeing to America, rich bourgeoisie writer Sergio (Sergio Corrieri) decides to stay in Cuba. Ambivalent and pessimistic about the future under Castro, he wastes his days idling and courting his teenage girlfriend Elena (Daisy Granados) and avoiding the political and social realities which he feels no connection with.
Whilst Alea’s film is full of ideas and a fascinating moral and social commentary about the period between the Revolution and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it wouldn’t be so great without the richness and depth of direction. The sheer creativity and imagination on show is breathtaking. It’s an extraordinary feat given its meagre budget. Memories of Underdevelopment plays with themes of isolation, intellectual and spiritual malaise to produce one of the greatest works of Cuban cinema.
Memories of Underdevelopment is released on Blu-ray by Mr Bongo on Monday.