14 June 2010

MEMORIAS DEL SUBDESARROLLO / MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (Dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968, Cuba) - A Mind In Exile

Some films may declare themselves to be outright political yet many waver when it comes to actually asking those questions that challenge the prevailing status quo. I had heard a great deal about this film and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. Memories of Underdevelopment has perhaps one of the most brilliant titles for what is a pseudo political essay on the complexity of revolutionary ideology in a country like Cuba. I don't know much about Cuban cinema and the same goes for director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's status as a film maker but this is a film which is recognised as a seminal one and its 1968 release date makes it particularly important for the internationalist struggle that was taking hold of the developing world towards the end of the sixties. Equally, Alea's film doubly functions as a historical document of Cuba in a post Castro-revolutionary stage whilst the focus on the singular character of Sergio, a bored Marxist intellectual who spends his day gratifyingly scrutinising the lack of mental development in Cuban society, acts as a symbol of the middle class in crisis. When his wife and best friend flee to America after Castro takes power, Sergio retreats inwardly, raiding memories that detail a life unfulfilled and somewhat decadent. Sergio's central argument is that though a physical revolution may have taken place as symbolised in the seizing of power and vanquishing of American imperialism, the social and political development of the Cuban majority remains stagnant. In his Marxist analysis, Sergio points to the women in Cuban society who he argues are underdeveloped thus ideas of revolution can never truly be implemented or put into practise.

In many ways, the loose episodic narrative that juxtaposes memories, fantasy and reality parallels the political deconstruction of Godard's cinema. The sequences in the apartment as Sergio listens to recordings of his bourgeoisie lifestyle, extenuated by his banal conversations with his estranged wife are some of the most astute and intimate, creating a warm character study. Sergio's liberalism and involvement with a young girl leads to charges of rape but later he is acquitted in what amounts to a satire of the judicial system. The girl's parents reveal a conservatism and that is in keeping with the film's criticism of such underdevelopment. Alea's masterpiece is overflowing with strong political ideas and in particular the subjective nature of the narrative and use of flashbacks seems to have had a lasting impact on many film makers including even someone as mainstream as American auteur Steven Soderbergh. I could not help but feel that Alea's film is something quite unique and perhaps even singular in terms of political cinema. I can't wait to revisit this one again to see what else it has to offer.

3 comments:

  1. I've been wanting to see this film for a long long time. I still have a copy. No idea when I'm going to watch it. Will get back once I do.

    Cheers!

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  2. Good stuff, Omar. Not sure how you will find the time, but Alea's back catalogue is now relatively accessible and it's all worth exploring – as is the 'imperfect cinema' of 1960s Cuba – at the time one of the most important modes of cinema to be found anywhere.

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  3. Thanks Roy and JAFB. I am eager to check out more Cuban cinema and will for sure explore Alea further and is it reasurring to know his work is accessible on DVD. Would Alea come under the auspice of third cinema?

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