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Memories of Underdevelopment

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by Baron Kurtz, Mar 5, 2006.

  1. Memorias del subdesarrollo


    Anyone have opinions? About the film!

    This is one of my all time favourites. I watch it about once a month. It's interestingly filmed, with great acting, great photography and a surprisingly weakly pro-Revolution message for a film from Cuba of the 60s. A very lucid and down to earth analysis of the revolution, it's aftermath and the european intellectuals etc. who were omnipresent in the early days, but slowly drifted away.

    I first saw it while incredibly hungover in London in 2001 - I stumbled upon it on Film Four about half way through. I had no idea what the film was called. I came across it again after loads of googling and bought the video second hand. Here's a synopsis:

    Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) 1968

    Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea
    Genre: Avant Garde Drama
    Time: 97 minutes
    English Subtitles
    Black and white
    Plot: The film centers on a Europeanized Cuban intellectual, too idealistic to leave for Miami, but too decadent to fit into the new Cuban society. Considered to be the greatest Cuban film of all time. People that could be interested: Film lovers, people who want to practice their Spanish, Spanish teachers that want their students to watch Spanish films, Political Science and Latin American Studies people, Arts and Humanities scholars, and Communist fans!
    This is the review it got in the New York Times after it was finally brought to the US:

    Written by Vincent Camby in May 18, 1973

    The time is 1961, not long after the Bay of Pigs, and Sergio(Sergio Correri), the hero of Tomas Gutierrez Alea's superb Cuban film, Memories of Underdevelopment, moves through Havana as if he were a scuba diver exploring the ruins of a civilization he abhors but cannot bear to leave. The world he sees is startingly clear. It is also remote. The sounds he hears are his own

    "Everything happens to me too early or too late," says Sergio, an intellectual in his late thirties whose critical faculties have effectively rendered him incapable of any action whatsoever. After his estranged wife and his mother and father have fled to Miami, with the other bourgeoisie, he thinks he will write the novel he has always thought about, but then Sergio's standards are too high to allow him to add to the sum total of civilization's second rateness. He finds himself blocked.

    Perhaps if the revolution had happened earlier, he tells himself, he might have understood. Sergio makes half-hearted little efforts to mantain his old ways. He picks up Elena(Daisy Granados), a pretty, bird brained girl who wants to be an actress, and he tries to educate(he says "Europeanize") her. He takes her to art galleries and buys her books but her brain remains unreconstructed and birdlike. "She doesn't relate to things," he tells himself. "It's one of the signs of underdevelopment"

    He takes Elena on a sightseeing tour of Hemingway's house. "He said he killed so as not to kill himself," Sergio remembers, looking at some mounted antlers. "In the end he could no resist temptation". Even suicide is beyond Sergio. All he can do is observe, much of the time through a telescopeon the terrace of a penthouse apartment he must give up, sooner or later.

    Memories of Underdevelopment is a fascinating achievement. Here is a film about alienation that is wise, sad, and often funny, and that never slips into the bored and boring attitudes that wreck Antonioni's later films. Sergio is detached and wary, but around him is a hurricane of life.

    Gutierrez Alea was forty when he made Memories(in 1968), and he is clearly a man, like Sergio, whose sensibilites are European. Yet unlike Sergio, and unlike the director of Eclipse and Red Desert, he is so full of passion and political commitment that he has been able to make an essentially pro-revolutionary film in which Castro's revolution is observed through eyes dim with bafflement.

    The result is hugely effective and moving, and it is complete in the way that very few movies ever are. I haven't read Edmundo Desnoes' original novel(publishd here as Inconsolable Memories), but I like the fact thta Desnoes apparently likes the film that, in his words, had to be "a betrayal" of the book to be a good film. Gutierrez Alea says the author, in the film's program notes, "objectivized a world that was shapeless in my mind and still abstract in the book. He added social density . . ."

    Memories of Underdevelopment was one of the films scheduled to be shown here last year at the aborted Cuban Film Festival. It finally opened yesterday at the First Avenue Screening Room where it will play one week and then, I hope, it will move to another theater for the long run it deserves.

    Extra notes

    This film has won many awards and it is considered very avant-garde. Especially innovative is the blending of historical video archives with the fictional main character. Also important is the use of sound and the non linear narrative. One interesting thing about the review above, is that he talks about the "aborted Cuban festival". Because of political reasons, it is always very difficult to get to watch these films so that is why all of you should take advantage of this fest as it is very difficult to get access to the films that I will be showing in this semester and the next. I hope that the FBI hasnt tapped my phone yet! By the way, this film is the only Caribbean movie to make the 360 film hall of fame created by the British Film Institute(Which has been critized for being too white male European oriented) so if it made it in this list it must be great. Anyway, I really hope to see you there if you have time as this is really a great movie.

    This movie is available in the US in VHS and is distributed by New Yorker films.
  2. jake_fink

    jake_fink Call Me a Cab

    This is a fantastic piece of work, though not likely to be very popular on these baords, except among a very few. The sequence set in Hemingway's Finca Vigia is especially memorable. I Am Cuba is another film from the same era that is also a masterpiece. I believe Martin Scorsese has something to do with the US release of one or both of these films.
  3. Too right! Her constant references to "Mr. Way" is priceless.

  4. Thanks for the tip. I'm not familiar with this one,it sounds interesting. What sort of chanel is Film Four? Do they show stuff like this often and uncut?
  5. Film Four ...

    ... Sort of like TCM. But they also fund films. Mainly british films are funded. I believe Trainspotting was funded (at least partially) by Film Four. Great channel.

    Don't know if this movie is still available new. Probably need to go second hand ...


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