Memorias del subdesarrollo
(Memories of Underdevelopment) (1968)
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.
Starring: Sergio Corrieri (Sergio Carmona Mendoyo), Daisy Granados (Elena), Eslinda Núez (Noemi), Omar Valdés (Pablo), René de la Cruz (Elena's brother), Yolanda Farr, Ofelia González, Jose Gil Abad, Daniel Jordan, Luis López, Rafael Sosa.
wealthy man caught in the transitions following the Cuban revolution of 1959
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
1961. Many people are leaving Cuba. An aspiring writer named Sergio says good-bye to his parents, his wife Laura and friends. He thinks to himself after everyone has left that his wife (soon to be ex-wife) will have to work in the USA until someone stupid enough marries her. He says it's his own fault because he always worked too hard to give her a very comfortable life.
In his big apartment he looks over the city with his telescope. He says everything is the same. And yet, the city looks different. He wonders if the city has changed or has he.
In a flashback he remembers some of the arguments he had with his wife. He accuses her of studying English and asks her if she is going to leave. She dismisses the question.
In the apartment all alone he puts on some of her outer garments and some makeup. He puts one of her nylon stockings over his head.
In another flashback he remembers the arguing again. After the finish of the argument, he tells Laura that he recorded the whole thing on a tape recorded. She says she is going to smash the recorder, but he stops her from doing so.
Sergio remembers when Havana was called "The Paris of the Caribbean". But now the "El Canto" has burned down and the stores are half-empty.
Sergio's friend Pablo tells him: "They're making the first socialist revolution in America. So what?" The fellows have been friends for over five years. Pablo wants to leave Cuba. He comments that he never thought they would topple Batista.
Sergio remembers the Bay of Pigs invasion by the US-back anti-communist Cubans and other volunteers. There was a torturer from the Batista days among them named Calvio. He was captured and victims and relatives of victims confronted him. Sergio says that most of the people caught from the invasion tried to escape responsibility for their actions, blaming the group or someone else. None of those that came with Calvio talked about the injustices they helped inflict on Cuban citizens, such as torture, death, malnutrition and starvation.
Noemi is a young, pretty woman who cleans the apartment three times a week. She has worked for him about a year but he never really noticed her before. He says he likes her. She's a Baptist. He dreams of kissing her and of her laying naked on a bed. He comments that Cuban women lose their looks from ages 30 to 35.
Sergio meets Elena while she waits for someone from the film company to pick her up so she can have a film test. The person or persons do not show up. So she accepts Sergio's invitation to have dinner with him. He tells her he hates to eat alone. They eat together.
The next day Sergio goes with Elena when she fills out a form for an acting job. He asks her to come to his apartment, but at first she says no. With some more prodding she tells him to go up first. He does so. She comes up later by herself. He has her put on some of Laura's clothes. She looks nice in a polka dot dress. She also looks young. They kiss, then she pulls away. They kiss again. She playfully runs from him. He catcher her and they kiss. (Off-screen they have sex.)
After sex Elena says that Sergio has ruined her. She cries and cries and wonders what she will tell her mother? Sergio tells her not to tell her mother. Elena leaves.
Sergio thinks again about that tape recorded argument. Laura tells him that she is leaving. She cries.
Elena returns the nest day wearing the polka dot dress. Sergio says later that Elena was totally inconsistent. And he finds this a sign of the underdevelopment of the country. It's the inability to gain experience and develop.
Pablo leaves for the USA. Sergio says to himself good riddance. He remembers back to his childhood. He played a lot with his friend Francisco. Sergio goes to a brothel with a friend, but he finds he can't do anything with the prostitute. He switches prostitutes and does something. Then he starts going weekly to the brothel.
Sergio discovers that Elena didn't think like him. He says she makes him feel underdeveloped. She is bored at an art museum. Later they go on a tour of the author Ernest Hemingway's house. Elena calls him Mr. Way. Again she is bored. The guide is Rene Villareal who was close to Hemingway. Hemingway picked him up when he was no more than a guttersnipe and established a real Colonist-Gunga Din relationship with him. Sergio thinks that Hemingway must have been insufferable. He thinks Hemingway never really cared for Cuba. His house was just a psychological refuge not really tied with Cuba.
Elena is outside in the garden with the guide. Everyone is leaving now and she calls out for Sergio. He refuses to answer her. After awhile, she gives up and stops one of the cars and gets in. Away she goes.
There is a round table discussion on literature and underdevelopment. Sergio and others find the discussion not helpful. The topic is approached through communist/socialist ideology and just appears to be a pile on of word after word.
Back at his apartment Sergio tells himself that he is alone, is nothing, is dead. He adds: "Now, Sergio, your final destruction begins."
Hanna was a young blonde girl whose parents fled from Germany in the time of Hitler. Sergio sees her as the best thing that ever happened to him. He liked her because she was less underdeveloped than Cuban women. And now he wonders why he let her go? He remembers back. They kiss and have sex. They even get engaged. She and her parents left for New York and he said he would live with her in the United States. He wanted to be a writer and she was the only one who really believed in him. She even told him that she would help him. Then his father gave him a furniture store and he got totally obsessed in running it. He worked like mad for two years and put off going to New York until it was too late to go. He wonders where Hanna is now.
Back home Elena buzzes his apartment over and over again, but he never answers. Some kind of census takers come and ask Sergio a bunch of questions. He is 38 years old and lives off rental income from apartments. On the street he thinks about it being two years since they took over his apartment block. He says he's 38 and already an old man.
Someone rings the buzzer of his apartment. It turns out to be Elena's brother. He tells Sergio that Elena says that he took advantage of her. She says that he promised to marry her. The brother looks like a tough guy and Sergio is a little afraid. So he is very accommodating to the brother. Elena, her brother and Sergio have lunch in a restaurant. Sergio says he will marry Elena. Then mother and father get involved and things start to get out of hand. Mother and dad are very mad at Sergio.
They all end up at the police station. The accusation against Sergio is rape of a sixteen year old girl.
Sergio goes to court. He pleads innocent. The real age of the girl is seventeen. The court absolves Sergio of the charge of rape. He is very happy.
The news of the day is that more American planes and warships are headed down to Florida. President Kennedy suddenly returns to Washington. The fear is of a Yankee invasion.
Noemi brings Sergio photos from her baptism. They kiss.
October 22, 1962. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sergio asks himself: "What if it all starts?" Fidel Castro speaks to the Cuban people. He says: "Venceremos!" (We will prevail!) Soviet tanks are brought in. Rocket launching trucks line a street in Havana. Anti-aircraft guns are placed on the top of city buildings.
Good movie. Enjoyed it. It is, of course, about Cuba: the revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile crisis. But our hero Sergio is not a very astute political observer. He's too warped psychologically to be much help with social-political history. He seems to be a man who has a hard time dealing with women. He is on the verge of a divorce and most of the movie deals with his various failed relationships with women. He seems to want an educated woman, but then picks up women who are definitely not educated. He also seems to like young women. He is perhaps his own worst enemy. Making his psychological problems worse is his resentment of his loved ones and good friends who have left him behind in Cuba. He could have went with them, but he decided to stay in Cuba. So then why does he criticize it and its people so much? He's a guy who probably is not able to be happy, partly because he is too critical.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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