NewsCultureCuba in Seven Films (V): Fresa y chocolate

Cuba in Seven Films (V): Fresa y chocolate

Xavier Carbonell, SIGNIS Correspondent

Up to this point, the reader must have realized that Cuba is the country of euphemisms. The labels to designate an age, the clever nicknames, the deconstructed and reinvented socialist slogans, deformed by the Cuban sense of humor, are the secret weapons to mock a suffering that is secular. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson that Cuba can teach: despite everything —history, separation, poverty and fatalism— one must not stop laughing.

If it weren’t been for laughter, and the effort of not surrendering to anxiety, no one would have survived to the Crisis of the Nineties, baptized —and one must acknowledge the wit of who invented the euphemism— as the Special Period.

Life submitted to scarcity, the suicide fall of our dependent economy, the orphanhood  —or widowhood, if we prefer the soviet romance as metaphor— in which we were left by the European communism, the dramatic corrosion of elemental values, the return of religion as anesthesia. That was the daily bread during the nineties, the moment in which my generation saw the light: in the middle of hunger and political abandonment, the grandsons of the revolution were born.

The Cuban art, often critical and always ingenious, offered its interpretations. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was already suffering the dramatic cancer that would end his life, and these circumstances forced him to work in co-direction with other filmmakers. Nevertheless, the tandem integrated by Titón and Juan Carlos Tabío was about to give to the Cuban cinema its most recognized film overseas: Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1993). The movie returned to the reflection of the role of the intellectual as a Cuban of unusual cleverness, who understands and deciphers the destiny of the island.

It was a classical topic in Titón. Diego —a homosexual writer, spied by the system, heretic in every level— must face very similar dilemmas to those of Sergio in Memories of the Underdevelopment. And then, when the situation becomes unbearable, emerges David. Young, devoted to the revolution that gave him everything, son of farmworkers —guajiros, would be the Cuban word—, their encounter has cataclysmic consequences in the feelings of both.

To Diego, of course, the boy is first a price, a bounty, naive and pure. But when he invites him to The Lair (as he calls his home) the vanity of hunting is dissolved, and Diego recognizes in David the utopia that ignores its betrayal. The utopia of the New Man —as told by Senel Paz, writer of the short story in which the movie is based— hoped and dreamed by Diego, a man capable of “drinking tea and talk, damn it, talk”, and not a piece of Stalin’s propaganda. Between the two of them grows a beautiful, sincere friendship, immortalized by the actors Jorge Perugorría and Vladimir Cruz, and completed by Titon’s wife, Mirta Ibarra.

But the island always hands us the bill and, as usual, every joy turns into fatalism. Diego is forced to abandon the country, to get away from the roots of his personality. Because, leaving Cuba “has, among us, a terrible connotation. It means that you abandon the country for good, you erase yourself from its memory and also delete it in your own, and, even if you refuse it, you assume the condition of a traitor”.

History doesn’t tranquilize or absolves anybody: with no other choice, Diego must go into exile. And Titón, the Cuban master of light and time, would enter three years later to that other, everlasting banishment that is death. Asphyxiated by the anxiety of the sea surrounding everything, the poet Virgilio Piñera wrote a sort of epitaph for any Cuban intellectual: “We lived in an island, perhaps not as we wanted, but as we could. Nonetheless, we demolished some temples”.


The collection of articles “Cuba in Seven Films”, published by SIGNIS originally in Spanish, in 2020, received the Paco Rabal Award of Cultural Journalism, Madrid (Spain) in the category of “Young Promise”.


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