Groundbreaking and hugely celebrated for numerous reasons, Cuba’s greatest director, Thomas Guiterrez Alea’s (Memories Of Underdevelopment) and his then protégé, now tour de force director in his own right, Juan Carlos Tabio’s (So Far Away, Guantanamera) Strawberry And Chocolate (Fresa Y Chocolate) was the first Cuban film ever to receive an Academy Award nomination, thanks to its revelatory plot, masterful direction and phenomenally crafted performances.
Diego, a cultivated, apolitical, sceptical young artist living in Havana initiates a friendship with fiercely communist homophobe David with the intention of seducing him. David, knowing this, allows the relationship to build so he can spy on a person he sees as aberrant and dangerous to the communist cause. Despite their conflicting sexualities and political ideologies the two slowly build a relationship out of their differences, proving that camaraderie and friendship can overcome the most divisive superficialities.
An exploration into the seduction of the mind, Strawberry And Chocolate shows how politics can shape lives, opinions and relationships. Hugely controversial in Cuba even now, the film was the first to feature a gay man as the hero while openly criticizing the Government and its widespread intolerance. It was this picture that started the dialogue that has only last year allowed Brokeback Mountain to be shown in Havana.
Charming, nuanced, groundbreaking and thought provoking, Strawberry And Chocolate is a clear-cut declaration that even in spite of politics, love for your fellow man will always triumph if allowed to.
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea came from a progressive middle-class family. Born in Havana in 1928, Alea experienced a vivid career, one closely tied to the history of his country. Fidel Castro was his classmate when he studied Law at the University of Havana, where he was already engaged in making films for the Communist Party. In 1951, he enrolled at Italy’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, one of the first international film schools. There he received exposure to films from around the world. He returned to Cuba to make the Neorealism-influenced El Megano; a film about the exploitation of charcoal burners. The film was seized by the authorities of Fulgencio Batista’s government after a screening at the University campus. In the years leading to the Cuban Revolution, Alea was employed making short documentaries for Television. Upon Castro’s victory, Alea was placed in charge of building Cuba’s national film institute – ICAIC (The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry). read more
No filmmaker living in Cuba has achieved greater worldwide acclaim than Juan Carlos Tabío, but you’d never guess it from talking with him. He is happy to ascribe the astounding success of a film like Strawberry and Chocolate – and, indeed, of his entire movie career – to mere good fortune.
Tabío was born in Havana in 1943. After the Cuban Revolution his parents were preparing him for a career in the diplomatic service. “I became a filmmaker because of a very lucky situation,” he explains in his interview with Havana Cultura. “The woman who ran the ICAIC [the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry] was a friend of my family’s and I went to talk to her.” Tabío started working as a production assistant in 1961 and spent the next four decades of his life as a filmmaker. “If that woman wasn’t a family friend I would have done something else in life. You’re carried on by life, life isn’t carried on by you. You can’t tell where life is going to take you.”
No wonder… read more
Recalls when I lived in the Philippines in the 60s and bits of culture like opera, even classical music, idealogical books, poetry, etc were hard to find. The lack made finding a tape recording or a blurred image or pirated copy of a book an almost sinful delight. If movies can help us relive the past so vividly they'd justify their being but, of course, they do more than that!