Dreaming of Julia (Cuba Libre) (2003)
Director: Juan Gerard.
Starring: Harvey Keitel (Che), Iben Hjejle (Julia), Diana Bracho (Beta), Gael García Bernal (Ricky), Gabino Diego (Armín), Cecilia Suárez (Dulce), Aline Küppenheim (Katia), Daniel Lugo (Capt.Rosado), Andhy Méndez (The Boy), Georg Stanford Brown (Black Bum), Iván García (Mr.Marro), Marilyn Romero (Candita), Enrique Almirante (Piel Canela), Reynaldo Miravalles (Waldo), Enrique Jiménez (Papín).
an 11 year old boy is able to live a somewhat normal life against the background of the Cuban Revolution, 1958
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
I give the name Juan (first name of the director) to "the boy" so I don't have to keep writing "the boy".
Holguín, Cuba. March 8, 1958. Juan says his grandmother Beta took him to the movies every night. He is watching an American film named Julia starring Doris Day. Suddenly the film goes out. Juan asks Beta what happened to Julia? The manager comes in with a lantern and tells everyone that the power outage is not only here in the theater but everywhere in town. There is a collective sigh in the theater.
Juan goes to see the projectionist, Piel Canela and asks him about the ending of the film. Piel Canela says: "Never reveal the movie ending." He urges Ricky to come back tomorrow. Piel Canela gives Ricky a lantern so he and Beta can see their way home. They are joined by Juan's mother Dulce and father and his sister Juani. Dad asks if they heard the explosion, but Beta isn't even aware there was an explosion. Beta asks where is Che (her husband)?
Juan runs to the Marro's bar, the neighborhood meeting place. Ricky, Marro's oldest son, is there. Soon enough it's a regular extended family reunion on the town streets. Father German is there eating Morro's wonderfully tasting ham. Uncle Armín, married to mom's younger sister Tete, comes up. Tete asks Uncle Armín where is Ale? Armín says he couldn't find him.
Katia, the sexiest woman in town, comes over and asks if anyone has seen her son Jose Carlos? Juan can't stand Carlos because the coward always picks on him. Tete asks Uncle Armín where is Ale? Armín says he couldn't find him. The local crazy man walks by. Ricky's grandfather Che, Beta's husband, rolls up in his Chevrolet. Ricky rushes over to hug grandpa, who tells the family that the rebels knocked out the power station. Beta and Che walk Juan home and he wonders why his parents didn't walk with them?
Beta is mad at grandpa because he was out at his gambling establishmen with women. In bed she pushes him away, but then she hugs him.
It was March 8, 1958. It was the beginning of an entire year of being without electricity.
Juan says that on his block almost everyone is family. Police Captain Rosado is the law on the block. Some fellow on the street named Fidel denounces Batista and the police beat him down.
Juan's friend Miguel shares Juan's love of films, but he is not allowed to see films usually. He usually asks Juan about the movies after Juan sees one. Miguel has some non-disclosed illness and his mother keeps him from going out.
Captain Rosado talks with Che. It appears that Che, who sells automobiles, got him the Chevrolet he is now driving. Juan shouts to Che, that Uncle Armín is going to take him to school in his taxi. Juan's best friend is Papín. He comes running down the street and gets into the small cab with Armín and Juan. Katia gives Armín a seductive hello. As Armín takes off, the crazy man says there is going to be a war because there is no democracy. It will be Cuban against Cuban.
There is one American living in town and she is known as "la gringa". As boys, they were afraid to go to the house. To prove their courage, they would pick fruits from her trees.
One night Che gathers the entire family together. This includes his three sisters and his mother too. There was Aunt Teresa, her only son Leandro and her husband Chucho. Aunt Candita ran the book store and never married in order to take care of her mother. And then there was Aunt Josefa, Maxie's widowed mother. And then there was the feared great-grandmother Valdubina. Che tells them that the rebels are preventing the workers from repairing the electrical power system. That means that they could be without electricity for months.
At night Juan has a nightmare. He was dreaming of Gina Lollabrigida as the character Lola in the film Trapeze, but then the film turned to the crash of the airplane Julia was trying to fly. His grandmother says it's because he watches too many films. She says that she took Juan to see Trapeze five times in one week.
Juan sees his grandfather Che as a John Wayne character: rough, tough and fair. He ran a gambling casino and everyone knew him as an honest man. He kicks an employee out for fixing the roulette wheel.
Juan and a bunch of schoolmates come by la gringa's house. Jose Carlos teases Juan telling him that it's his turn to pick the fruit. Juan is not going to do it, so the big kid starts clucking at him saying he is a chicken. Juan responds with fighting and he gets knocked down. Two women from across the street break up the fight.
Juan goes over to the movie house and asks Piel Canela why can't he buy a generator so they could still see movies? There is a problem with the money. Piel says that if there are no more movie posters to put up, or murals to paint, he will be without a job. Piel whites out the Julia mural and paints one about the next coming movie, the Vikings. The boys see la gringa driving around in a jeep. Juan tells Che to look, but Che refuses to look.
The blackout brought changes. Aunt Teresa's house became a zoo. Despite the awful smell, Aunt Teresa's place came to be the place to play bingo every night. Under the table, Katia would play footsies with a man on either side of her -- one of them being Armín.
When Juan got into any trouble, he could always go to Uncle Waldo's house. (Waldo is the husband of Valdubina.) And he became a bit of a problem for the family because he would help the rebels. Waldo, however, didn't care. He tells the family he will do things the way he wants to do them. With Waldo lived a real dare-devil: Renaldo. Juan has a plan and he seeks out the help of Renaldo. The three go up onto a roof on their main street. Juan and Papín let Renaldo down by a rope. He fires an arrow with a line attached to it and hits a ham hanging in the window. The rope the two boys are holding breaks and the boys don't know what to do. All of a sudden, Renaldo shows up on the roof with them and with the huge ham.
Just then Rosada and his men start shooting up the local tavern from a car. They also shoot up the book store.
Juan and the two other boys go la gringa's house. They hang up the ham off a tree limb of a tree in the the yard of la gringa. While the ham distracts the dogs, Juan makes a run for the fruit from the other trees. He picks several pieces of fruit and then jumps down. But now the dogs are coming right toward him. He has to run back up into the tree. With a shogtun, la gringa comes along and tells the boy to stay right there! She brings Juan into her house. She tells him that it must have been his turn to grab some fruit from the wicked witch and her pack of wild dogs. Juan tells the attractive blonde woman that she doesn't look like the witch. For instance, she doesn't have the nose of the witch.
Juan is impressed by her collection of books and a Winchester rifle. He asks her about the rifle and she says she worked on a movie once and John Wayne gave her the rifle. And he even taught her how to shot the darn thing. Juan says he never saw her in any movies. La gringa says that she was behind the scenes, in production. She adds that the movies are ancient history for her now. She came to Cuba to work on her paintings. Moreover, she says, the townspeople seem to blame her for anything that goes wrong around here. A little later she tells him that he should go home because his parents are probably worried about him. Juan starts to leave, but she stops him to give him the fruits he picked from her trees.
La gringa walks him to the gate and tells him that he can come back any time and read some of her books. (She says that she never lends them out.) Juan is happy to hear this. She turns to leave and walks a few steps when Juan asks her what's her name? It's Julia.
Juan walks over to the book store. He sees how sad his aunt is and how Che tries to comfort her. Then her hears Rosada saying that the rebels have done this and they will be the ones to pay for it. Juan is a bit disgusted with Rosada. Che picks up a spent cartridge and tells Rosada it seems that the rebels are using the same kind of weapons the police use. Rosada says somebody must be selling the rebels their guns. Che gets really furious with Rosada, but his son-in-law restrains him.
Juan's father tells Che that he is going to stay in Miami for a few months. Then he will call for his wife and kids. He says everyday things are getting worse, in Cuba. He asks Che to come to Miami too, but Che says he belongs in Cuba.
Che goes home. He sees his wife sitting on the stairs and he asks her if she has talked to Dulce? She says yes and adds that she doesn't want to lose Dulce and her family. Che says that she can go to Miami with them and Beta says bitterly that Che would really like that. They get into a little argument with Che walking away, up the stairs.
Dulce comes to speak with her mother. Mom says that she doesn't want to lose her and her family. Beta is obviously angry about her husband and tells Dulce not to be like her. She says she was always taught to look away from the things that the husband does. But looking away doesn't mean that she has to like it.
Juan says that his father was leaving again. He was always leaving, working to purchase cars for Che's business of selling cars. But, this time was different. He could sense that.
Juan is playing baseball instead of taking his piano lesson when mom walks up behind him and grabs him. She starts walking him back home, while hitting him and saying that this is not funny. Juan says that that day was a rough one for him. It was tough with father gone. But it was rougher on his mother. He adds that it was that lousy Jose Carlos who did him in and now that bully was going to pay for it.
At church Juan is the altar boy. He helps the priest give communion. When it comes time for Jose Carlos to take the wafer in his mouth, as soon as the priest places the wave on his tongue, Juan follows up by putting a roach on the top of the wafer. The priest notices that Jose Carlos is starting to joke on the wafer. He panics and tells Jose Carlos not to reject the body of Christ and tries to force Jose Carlos to stop from spitting out the wafer. But he can't stop Jose Carlos from spitting out the wafer and the cockroach followed by his throwing up on the ground and partly on the cleavage of his horny mother. Everybody in the church laughs. Che goes outside and haves a huge laugh about what happened. Grandfather Waldo has a good laugh when he hears about the incident.
Juan tells the story of Julia for Miguel and a girl of Juan's age named Lisa. He really enjoys talking about the film to the kids. After the other kids go home, Beta scolds Juan for telling the story of the film without really having seen its ending.
Beta comes into Juan's room the next morning with bad news. Miguel died last night.
Juan talks to the real Julia at her house. It's his belief that God was unfair for taking the life of Miguel. Julia tells him this is life and death and you can't have life without death or death without live. Back in his own bed, Juan asks God to let Beta, Mommy and Julia live forever.
Juan's friends ask for a truce between Juan and Jose Carlos. So the boys go over to Jose Carlos's house to talks with Jose Carlos. His mother is in the shower. When the boys knock on the door she tells them to come in, the door is open. The boys go sit on the couch. Holding only a towel in front of her, the kids get an eye-fill. Later, Juan confesses about this to the priest, who relishes the sensuality of the story.
Armín is buying a used Chevrolet. He is going to trade in his extremely small taxi to help pay for it. Juan says he likes the Chevrolet more than he likes the little taxi. Katia comes over and flirts some more with Armín. She then asks him to come with her to fix her phonograph. Armín goes with her and Juan wonders how can Armín fix the phonograph when there's no electricity?
While taking his piano lessons, Juan meets another student of the piano: Carmen. She is gorgeous and Juan is crazy about her, but she is much older than Juan. He speaks of Carmen to Julia and Julia recommends that he write a letter to her saying how he feels.
When Juan walks home from Julia's home, Armín grabs him and says they have been waiting for him. He has a large audience sitting in chairs in front of the old record player belonging to Katia. Armín not only fixed the phonograph (which uses a crank for power) but he has fixed up his car to supply enough energy to show films to the people on the block. Everybody yells that Armín is their hero. But Piel Canela is worried about the possible competition. Armín tells the crowd that he has only a old projector that can work only with old black and white films. And the first show will be tonight at the local park.
The first film they show is Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart is not a movie star that Juan cares for, because, he says, Bogart is too ugly. He says there also were too many kisses in the movie.
Juan watches as Carmen descends the stairs from the house of the piano teacher. He arranges it so that he bumps into the pretty girl. He then asks if he can walk her home. She says yes. But Juan has competition. Papín comes over and wants to be introduced by Juan to Carmen. Juan reluctantly makes the introduction and Papín kisses her hand. Just before she goes into her house, she sees Ricky standing behind the two boys. He blows her a kiss and she blows him one. Papín says to Juan that he thinks he's in love with Carmen.
Juan complains to Julia that now Papín is in love with Carmen too. Julia suggests that Juan take Carmen to a dance. The problem is, says Juan, he can't dance. So Julia dances with Juan. While she dances with the boy, he develops a hard-on, so Julia says she has to get something from the oven and he says he has to go do an errand for his mother.
It is carnival time and the block holds a three day party. Papín and the boys spot a prostitute working the street. She tells them to go away, but the boys keep following her. So she grabs Papín and pulls him along with the other boys following them. They couldn't believe their good luck.
Later, Juan sees Carmen dressed up like a dancer from India and she is a knockout. So, when Lisa asks Juan to dance with her he turns her down. He goes over to Carmen and they start dancing. But soon Ricky cuts in on him and the couple have a lot of fun dancing. Then Che in a skeleton costume cuts in on Ricky. Che then dances with his wife solo for everyone, while a singer sings a beautiful song. Juan, as an adult, says the memory of Che and Beta dancing for the crowd still lingers with him today.
Katia waits for Armín to come to her, but he sits watching the film with Juan. She gets mad and walks away in a huff.
Then one day Juan sees Ricky and Carmen kissing. That crushes Juan's hopes.
Julia, out doing her Christmas shopping, runs into Juan. He points out Carmen and Ricky to her. He also says that Ricky is with the rebels because he has some of their literature in his briefcase. Juan says he hopes Rosada shoots Ricky right there where he sits. Julia is shocked that Juan would say such a thing. She rushes over to Ricky and Carmen sitting on the bench, because Rosada is walking in the direction of the couple and she wants to get the briefcase from Ricky so Rosada doesn't look into it. She hides it by placing her Christmas shopping bags all around the briefcase. She then complains to Rosada that her packages are too heavy to carry, especially the briefcase. Rosada says he will help her and picks up the briefcase. Then all of a sudden, Rosada's pink Chevrolet explodes in a huge fire ball.
Che speaks with Ricky, as Juan tells his friends that in Ricky's briefcase there are pistols and a grenade. Che tells Ricky that Rosada will be coming for him. Carmen comes by and Ricky tries to wave her away, but Che sees her and goes over to tell her to stay away from Ricky and Rosada. In fact, she should just go home and stay there. Carmen runs home. Ricky runs away from Che, but stops just long enough to shout at Ricky: "What do you want from me. hey?!"
Juan tells Julia what he did and she gets very angry with him, saying: "How dare you play with people's lives like that?" She says he could have gotten both Ricky and her killed. She adds: "If anything happens to Ricky, you'll regret it the rest of your life." Julia asks him if he has mentioned this to anyone and he lies and says no. She then says he better go. Juan falls off his bike and hurts his elbow. Julia drives him home and bandages his arm. Beta comes home and she is mad because she was looking for Juan all day. Juan introduces her to Julia and Beta looks like she suddenly just froze in place. Julia says that she better be getting home, but Juan begs Beta to let Julia stay. Beta tells Juan he must go to bed. Juan kisses her good night and goes upstairs. Beta now asks Julia if she will sit and have some coffee, but Julia just says that she had better go. Outside she just passes by Che and Dulce. Dulce crosses to the other side of Che to avoid Julia. Even though Julia and Che know each other, neither of them say anything.
The police are chasing after Ricky and he does what he can not to be arrested. Ricky jumps on top of Armín's moveable theater and lays there with a pistol in his hand. Che argues with Rosada that someone is going to get hurt here. Ricky shoots a police officer that spots him. He then starts running from the police again. Ricky runs in a big circle and goes into Beta's house. She tells him to go upstairs and over the roof. Che stands in front of his door to prevent Rosada from going in. Rosada threatens to shot him in the head, but the situation is defused when Beta opens the door and tells Rosada to come in.
A policeman gets on the roof with Ricky and Ricky shoots him. Ricky is cornered so he runs over to the edge of the roof. Rosada sees him and tells him to come down with his hands over his head and no one will get hurt. Ricky puts the pistol to his head and fires. He drops off the roof onto the pavement below. Ricky's mother rushes over and cries as the men hold her back. And now Juan feels really bad because he blames himself. He runs to Julia's house yelling that Ricky is dead and it's all his fault. He now admits that he lied. He did tell the kids in the neighborhood about the briefcase. Julia tries to soothe his guilt feelings by saying that Juan never wanted this to happen and that Ricky loves Juan. She adds; "You're not responsible for his death."
Rosada is also upset about the three dead men. He throws water onto his face and starts to cry.
Carmen, dressed in black, visits Ricky's grave. Ricky is there and watches as Carmen walks past him without saying anything to him. After school Juan comes over to Julia's home. The front doors automatically open for him. He starts walking up the stairs and he hears Che's voice saying: "I want you to listen to me when I tell you to stay away from my house." Julia says she's so sorry. Juan hears Che say that he loves Julia. He walks back outside. Julia tells Che that she is going back home and so should he. She adds that Che knows she never really belonged here. As Che leaves, he stops to tell Julia that he will always dream about her.
Juan goes back home to talk with Beta. Later, Che returns home. Che picks up the sleeping Juan and tells Beta that: "He knows." He knows now about Che's relationship with Julia.
On December 31, 1958, Batista left Cuba. On January 1, 1959 Fidel Castro came down from the mountains declaring the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. . . . It was a day of celebration throughout the world, including Holguín. The crazy man says that this is just the calm before the storm.
Juan comes over to Julia's house. They run to each other and hug. Juan cries that he wants to come and visit her everyday. Julia says he can't because she is going home. He replies that she is already home. Julia says perhaps back in Hollywood she will become a movie star and she will owe it all to Juan. Juan starts walking home. He waves goodbye to Julia.
The movie Julia finally returns, starring in addition to Doris Day is Louis Jourdan and Barry Sullivan.
Julia has died. A gas stove blew up right in her face. Some people say she killed herself, says Juan, but he knows she's now in Hollywood. Rosada was executed by firing squad. Che lost everything except his house. Katia's husband was a rebel and he became a big shot. She and Jose Carlos went to live in Havana. Juan's father worked in a big hotel in Miami where he prepared for the arrival of his wife, son and daughter. They took the town crazy man away. Che fell very ill and Beta wouldn't leave his side.
Juan goes to see the end of Julia, but again power is lost and Juan can't see the ending. When he comes home, mom tells him that he has to get packed. The visas have come in and they are heading for Miami. Beta tells Che that she and he will stay here in Cuba together. The family says goodbye to Dulce and her children. Juan tells Che and Beta that they will be back.
Juan says he never saw his hometown, Beta or Che again. On the plane, Juan imagines one of the stewardesses is Julia. Beta died in 1973. Che died in 1979.
Good movie. Interesting reminiscing about the director's childhood in a place where it seemed that everyone was family. The revolution is starting, but it has not affected the director's home town as of yet. So the boy lives a nice life with smaller problems, such as dealing with the bully Jose Carlos. The boy usually gets his revenge on Jose Carlos who is not that bright. It was interesting meeting the different people on the block and how they interacted with each other. Quite a few of the little stories are comical. Toward the end of the film, problems relating to the revolution do arise in town. Their electrical power, for example, is knocked out by the rebels for a year. As the revolutionary activity heats up, people on the block start being killed or, later, executed. The boy is deeply saddened by all the bad consequences of the revolution, but he keeps on persevering. He learns some very important lessons the rough way through the school of hard knocks.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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