International Writers Magazine: Review
David, a student at
the University of Havana is picked up by Diego, a homosexual artist, who
has bet a friend that he can seduce the young man. Although he is rabidly
homophobic, David is persuaded to go to Diegos flat with the promise
of some photographs taken while he was appearing in a play. When Davids
friend Miguel hears of the eccentric flat, the religious art and contraband
whisky, and of Diegos boast that he is planning to mount an exhibition
with the help of a foreign embassy, he persuades David to seek Diego in
order to expose him as a counter-revolutionary,
Y CHOCOLATE (Strawberry and Chocolate)
Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos,
Directors: Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio
It is surprising
that this film is the work of Tomas Gutierrez Alea, a dedicated
revolutionary and founder of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic
Art, not only because of its controversial theme, but also because
of the implied criticism of Cubas revolutionary system and
its attitudes towards individuality.
of a bigoted and fervently heterosexual young man and an older,
decadent homosexual non-conformist artist and dedicated poseur,
is already very promising, but when we place them in late 70s
Cuba, the plot reveals a sensitivity that has made Fresas y Chocolate
one of the most celebrated Latin American films of the 90s.
David reluctantly takes on the role of spy and befriends Diego, but in
the process becomes fascinated with Diegos sophisticated taste in
forbidden foreign literature, and classical music. He is prepared to hate
Diego and turn him over to the authorities, but he comes to discover Diego
as a person rather than a cliché and finds himself open to ridicule
when he tries to defend and justify his new friend. Inevitably, Diegos
outspokenness lands him in trouble and the two friends face separation,
but the experience has changed Davids attitude forever.
Giving the initial appearance of a melodrama about gay rights, this film
encompasses a lot more. There are hints of political pressure to spy on
fellow citizens and of the scorn with which revolutionaries look on religion
and on any type of activity which can be considered subversive, whether
it is free art or drinking Johnny Walker whisky, "the enemys
liquor" as Diego sarcastically calls it.
There are compelling sub-plots, such as Davids obsession with his
ex-girlfriend, who leaves him to marry someone else shortly after his
clumsy attempt to seduce her, and the intervention of Diegos sexy
thirty-something neighbour Nancy, an amateur prostitute and black marketeer,
to whom David eventually loses his virginity.
Prejudice, sexual tension and political discontent are given a compassionate
treatment and the interiors in Diegos and Nancys flats, which
appear to be part of a decaying former grand house contribute to the delicate
air of melancholy that runs through the whole piece.
Well acted, with a particularly sensitive performance by Jorge Perugorria
as Diego, this film will be remembered as one of the best exponents of
Cuban modern cinema.
Dover November 2007
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