(Tomás Gutiérrez & Juan Carlos Tabio, Cuba, 1994)


I approached Guantanamera with trepidation, harbouring an unpleasant memory of the previous opus by co-directors Tomás Gutiérrez and Juan Carlos Tabio, Strawberry and Chocolate (1994) – the kind of mushy, artless film that reviewers hail as great in February and forget entirely by September.

But Guantanamera surprised me. It is self-consciously a folk movie, its script woven from a popular song, various national myths and legends, and the vicissitudes of daily life in socialist Cuba. It could be said that the country’s bureaucracy, with all its crazy malfunctions and inefficiencies, figures as a major character in this intrigue.

Beyond the rich vein of social satire, Guitérrez and Tabio present a tapestry of characters of different ages and stations who, as in Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty (1996), grapple with the problems of love lost and re-glimpsed. Whether in the prime of life or at death’s door, each player in this folk drama must choose between personal renewal and staid, everyday conformity.

As in the song “Guantanamera”, Yoyita (Conchita Brando), a celebrated singer, returns to her hometown and encounters Candido (Raúl Eguren), a flame from long ago. Not far into this tender reunion Yoyita promptly dies. This triggers the complex funeral arrangements that – due to the insanity of official regulations – take forever, and allow the diverse characters to meet and separate many times over.

The plot thread involving Yoyita’s niece Georgina (Mirtha Ibarra) and truck driver Mariano (Jorge Perugorria from Strawberry and Chocolate) is both the funniest and most touching element of the film. Georgina is an ex-teacher (of “scientific communism”) now trapped in a loveless marriage to civil servant Adolfo (Carlos Cruz), and her moment of truth comes when Mariano, who loved her unrequitedly as a student, begins to woo her again.

Taken separately, none of the pieces of Guantanamera are particularly special. But it is the fluid, whimsical combination of characters, songs, gags, and towns, plus a few magic-realist touches, that makes this ramble so lively and enjoyable.

© Adrian Martin October 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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