Sunday, 14 March 2010

Cinema: Review of 'Fresa y Chocolate' or 'Strawberry and Chocolate'

Generally, the only event to lure the Blah Blah Blah crew into the Black Box at Exeter's Phoenix Arts Centre is the monthly Uncut Poets event, but the chance to see one of my favourite Cuban films - 'Fresa y Chocolate' or 'Strawberry and Chocolate' - on a biggish screen was too much to resist, even on a Monday night.

Originally released in 1994 during Cuba's 'special period' - the years following the end of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism - the story takes place in Havana in 1979, a time when the revolutionary spirit was still strong in Cuba twenty years  on, but repression of homosexuals and other perceived dissidents was also at its height.

I don't have time today to do the film justice. Follow the links here and above to find more detailed discussion. It has elements of an odd couple or buddy movie, and works at that level as a moving comedy - but is of particular interest to anyone interested in Cuban politics and society. The very fact it was made and tolerated by a regime previously not averse to censorship was notable in itself, the open playing confrontation of differing world views (the homosexual aesthete versus the heterosexual doctrinaire communist) significant in surfacing debate that had previously been kept underground.

The achievements and compromises of Cuban society under a communist regime are also all present - the quality of the health service and education system versus the rationing of and hustling for consumer goods - and correct, but the movie is neither polemic nor documentary and works well as a cookie comedy with some fine performances, especially by Jorge Perugorria who plays the camp but charismatic Diego. For visitors to Cuba, it also features some landmarks including the Coppelia ice cream parlour which is open to all comers and a good place to chat to Habaneros in a relaxed atmosphere. More exlusively, Paladar Guarida - the apartment where much of the film was shot - is now a privately restaurant, but book ahead as it's a real celeb hangout and very popular with the diplomatic community.

The event was organised by Jane Yates who is testing the Exeter waters to gauge interest in setting up a branch of the Cuban Solidarity Campaign.  She plans further Cuban film evenings so keep an eye on the Phoenix website and this blog.

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