Funny thing about Cuba Review: "Guantanamera" is a social satire set against a backdrop of Castro's wheezing revolution.

December 05, 1997|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

With lilting, musical lyricism and gentle humor, "Guantanamera" fuses romantic comedy and social satire in a tale of sex, death and socialism in contemporary Cuba.

Written and directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio, who created the Oscar-nominated "Strawberry and Chocolate," "Guantanamera" touches on many of the filmmakers' favorite themes, with their signature light touch: Even as Alea and Tabio poke good-natured fun at a revolution run amok with creeping bureaucracy and paranoia, they celebrate their native country's lush landscape, rich history and resilient sons and daughters.

Gina (Mirta Ibarra) has brought her aunt Yoyita (Conchita Brando) back to their hometown of Guantanamo, where Yoyita meets her long-lost love, Candido (Raul Eguren). The happiness of being reunited with Candido is too much for Yoyita: Ecstatic, she drops dead into his arms. Now Gina is faced with the prospect of burying her aunt in Havana, the government having recently decreed that all citizens must be buried in their town of residence. Luckily -- or not, as it turns out -- Gina's husband, Adolfo (Carlos Cruz), is an official undertaker who has invented an elaborate relay system of funeral corteges, designed to be the epitome of scientific efficiency and fuel savings.

For Adolfo, this is his ticket to power and prestige: He intends to save the day in a country that, as one of his colleagues says with alarm, "is in a state of necrological alert!"

Gina and Adolfo set out for Havana, with the quietly mourning Candido in tow, at the same time that a truck driver named Mariano (Jorge Perugorria) embarks on the identical route. Of course, it's inevitable that the two groups will meet along the journey, and with surprising results, as Gina learns her own lessons about lost love, Adolfo's driver does some gray-market deal-making and Aunt Yoyita, as the test-case for Adolfo's system, winds up where she's least expected.

"Guantanamera" is an altogether fitting final film for Alea, who died last year at the age of 68. He and Tabio hit on the quaint idea of holding the narrative together with a chorus, wherein the singers comment on the proceedings in a song set to the tune of "Guantanamera." Between that delightful device and the occasional Bunuelian moment of magic realism, "Guantanamera" may be the finest expression of Alea's distinctive love for Cuba, one that melded romance and irony, iconoclasm and political commitment. As this cavalcade of characters makes its way across a landscape that is alternately lush and sere, Cuba's geographical contradictions are echoed in a backdrop that combines poverty and gracious living: The economy may be falling apart, but there is surely a "clandestine inn" somewhere down the road where a delectable pork amarillo can be had with cold beer.

Much of the appeal of "Guantanamera" is provided by its two romantic leads. Ibarra, who was married to Alea and who played the voluptuous government apparatchik in "Strawberry and Chocolate," glows with a worn, ripened beauty as the unfulfilled Gina. Perugorria, who played the gay Catholic patriot in the earlier film, has grown a beard and become a handsome and assured leading man.

"Guantanamera" takes its own languorous time in reaching its destination; after all, this is a journey during which there is always time for one more "cafecita," or small coffee.

But filmgoers who give in to its generous, unhurried charm will be rewarded with a very sweet love story set amid some of the world's most sad and sensuous political ruins.

'Guantanamera'

Starring Carlos Cruz, Mirta Ibarra, Raul Eguren, Jorge Perugorria, Pedro Fernandez

Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio

Released by Cinepix Film Properties

Not rated

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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