Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del subdesarrollo)

Memories of Underdevelopment

What if it began right now?

My only foray into Cuban cinema thus far (and the only other Cuban film on the list) has been Lucia, which I found a bit tiresome and effortful, so I wasn’t too keen on diving into Memories of Underdevelopment, but apparently it is far more well regarded than the former. Still, I was on my guard, and good thing I was; this is a really odd type of film, especially for someone looking to be entertained by a film. This is the type of film that film historians will happily gush over, write theses about, and contribute discussion pieces to various magazines and newsletters interested in the importance of film works in developing countries. It’s a cultural and character study, meant to inform and discuss through metaphor, and really serves no other purpose. If that’s your kind of film, congrats; Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s expose of developing Cuban life will be a heck of an exploration. If not, this will be like wading through wet concrete for you, so choose carefully.

The film seems to be an odd combination of documentary and fictional story, following a wannabe writer named Sergio as he basically explores Cuba, its history, and its culture, all in his own mind. The film is very correctly titled; it plays out like fleeting memories that flash inside your head, jump to reels of footage, and then make connections to other memories, all about the emerging nation of Cuba, or the various facets of Cuban life that are lived by Sergio. It works like the human mind, which was the main reason (and probably the only reason) I found it somewhat fascinating, and I couldn’t help but think that this is the way In the Year of the Pig should’ve been. The film was rather harshly shot, and I could tell immediately from the opening scene. All the white is incredibly washed out, and if it were audio one could easily tell it was peaking. I don’t know if the filmmakers just didn’t really know quite what they were doing, or if it was intentionally shot this way, but either way, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I liked the story that was told; it was usually interesting, and very self-reflective, so if that sounds like your kind of thing, you might enjoy this one a little more than you otherwise would have.

This was a surprisingly good watch, at least for me; mostly because the narrative device was so unique and interesting. If you really think about it, though, the story this one tells is just the everyday life of some guy in Cuba, and I’ve read a review or two about this one that compared it to La Dolce Vita, and rightly so. That might deter some viewers, just because the story isn’t interesting enough, but it’s apples to oranges at this point; the film has its obvious pros and cons, and it came out pretty much in the middle ground on my end. I expected worse, and was pleased with what I got. So there; you get one win, Cuba.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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