Memories of Underdevelopment (15)

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The Independent Culture

A curious, tricksy Cuban film from 1974, in which self-referential fiction (from a novel by Edmond Desnoes, who has a cameo as himself) is punctuated by spells of actuality and documentary.

It is set in Havana, between the time of the Bay of Pigs invasions in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Sergio, a bourgeois would-be writer, stays behind when his family and friends flee the revolution for Miami. "Underdevelopment" refers to Cuba's economic and political situation; but it is also how he thinks of his various friends and lovers, and it's how we learn to think of him: detached, uncommitted, consumed by uncertainty.

The atmosphere, with its combination of political and sexual crisis and intellectual isolation, put me in mind of Milan Kundera's early novels and, like those, there's a sense at the end that it's less than the sum of all its sophistication. But it has a great score by the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, and purely as news from elsewhere, a picture of a society at a vital point.