Monday, December 29, 2008

Forgotten VHS: "Memories of Underdevelopment" (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968)


by Jacob Shoaf

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) is the more serious counterpart to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s The Twelve Chairs. Both portray the social effects of the Batista overthrow as relates to bourgeois Cubans (not a phrase you hear terribly often), though Chairs shows the results through both a former aristocrat and a revolutionary, while Memories focuses solely on the former as he interacts with numerous examples of the latter.

In Memories, a fleet of well-to-do Cubans emigrates to avoid the regime change. Sergio (Sergio Corrieri) watches as his (ex)wife and friends leave for Miami. He stays behind to start writing the Great Cuban Novel. This leads to a lot of aimless wandering accompanied by internal monologues describing the state of Cuba as seen through Sergio’s eyes. But since waxing philosophic doesn’t take too much time, he still manages to become involved with Elena (Daisy Granados) who serves as the prototypical daughter of the revolution. She falls out of favor with Sergio and he looks back to a relationship he had with a European girl (and Sergio makes sure to point out that she hails from a developed nation).

Memories gives off a vibe of early Godard (but not quite as frenzied and with less philosophical asides). It was the first Gutiérrez Alea film to be shown in the US, and is also probably the director’s best known film. Through freeze frames, documentary footage, and flashbacks we study not only one man, but an entire culture. Memories isn't just a great Cuban movie. It's a great movie on an international level.

(Note: While there is technically a region 1 DVD of this film, it’s only available in PAL format. So make some friends in Canada or look for it on VHS.)

4 comments:

James Hansen said...

In case anyone is interested, this film is showing at the IFC Center in New York from January 16-19 at 11 AM. Definitely an excellent opportunity to see a rare film on the big screen.

Jacob Shoaf said...

If anyone randomly ends up in Athens, OH in the last week of January, the Athena Cinema will be showing Memories of Underdevelopment as well as Mala Noche (Van Sant), Jubilee (Jarman), Black Orpheus (Camus), and The Last Metro (Truffaut) as part of their monthly Cinematheque series. It's free for OU students, so enroll or prepare to shell out $4.

Chuck Williamson said...

For the record, I will just say that after hearing that line-up of films--I really want to live in Athens.

Jacob Shoaf said...

We also have great pizza and coffee! If you like, I'll send you some real estate leaflets.