Published: 5 July, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Part-directed by Benicio Del Toro
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Stars
It might not be quite the same as jetting to Cuba for a week’s holiday, but this off-beat flick about life on the island is as close as you’ll get to savouring it without having to schlep over the Atlantic.
Part-directed by actor Benicio Del Toro, who is joined by six others, it is set over seven hot days in the capital Havana, and tells the stories of a variety of people who call it home.
Del Toro was the lead in Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic of Che, and his passion for the island is obvious.
This is a warts-and-all consideration of the state of play there and offers a real-time glimpse into life under the US trade embargo.
It isn’t shy in showing the trials and tribulations of living in Cuba – the power blackouts that cause chaos to a baker who is charged with making meringues for a party and watches in horror as the electric egg whisker grinds to a halt is a good example.
There is also the bare fact that Western cash speaks loudly – it provides uncomfortable moments when we watch the beautiful club singer seduced by the idea of a materially better world by a Spanish music impresario, which is in direct competition with the boyfriend she loves and an island that is home.
The directors have created a snapshot, and it shows a creaking society of make-do and mending, and of a people who shrug their shoulders in the face of adversity and get on with it.
They know the world is an unfair place, and lose themselves in art and joy.
Yet for the depression caused by American imperialism, and the fact this tiny nation has stood up to the world super-power for more than 50 years now, this is also a celebration.
The sketches feature a wide variety of characters, some working better than others.
The trumpeter who hangs out with a Serbian film-maker on the island to collect a film award, provides a moment of raw undiluted joy.
Just listening to him play his instrument, with a backing group of bongoes, double bass and the trombone, is so beautiful I could play it on a loop over and over, and fall asleep with a rum-tinged, wolfish smile across my lips.
It is heavenly.
The film doesn’t shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of the society: the homophobia, which is a dark, dark stain on the Revolution, is tackled in places.
Due no doubt to the number of directors, this is a disjointed movie at times, the thread provided by the broad canvas that each story, split into days of the week, could do with some more place setting.
Yet, overall, it is a love song to Cuba, and one the directors have clearly invested their own view and own joy in.