Even with its long, proud cinematic history, Cuba has never put its proverbial arms around a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar statuette – but that’s not to say it hasn’t tried. Since the country first threw its hat in the Academy Awards ring back in 1978, it’s submitted a grand total of twenty films for consideration. They even secured a nomination back in 1994 with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s classic Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), but it wasn’t enough to get them the bronze.
So could this year be any different? Who knows. What we do know for sure is that Cuba has announced its official selection nearly two months ahead of the Academy’s deadline. In other words, Cuba is basically that super responsible kid in your high school lit class who always turned his papers in ahead of time. In this case, that paper is the film El Acompañante (The Companion) by director Pavel Giroud, which apparently was so good Cuban film authorities didn’t have to debate much before settling on their choice.
The film explores some rather difficult themes concerning Cuba’s treatment of AIDS patients back in the late ’80s. Following a disgraced boxer assigned to work in an AIDS sanatorium, El Acompañante takes us behind the scenes of Cuba’s controversial forced confinement of AIDS patients while giving us an inspirational sports redemption story for good measure. Giroud is certainly a capable veteran director, and in this case he was helped along by Alejandro Brugués (Juan de los Muertos) and hot-shot international producer Pierre Edelman (Mulholland Drive), both of whom shared co-writing duties. To boot, Latin Grammy-nominated rapper Yotuel Romero of Orishas holds down the starring role as boxer-caretaker Horacio Romero.
As evidenced by the trailer, the film boasts some slick cinematography alongside strong performances from Romero and co-star Armando Miguel Gómez. Giroud even got to have some fun with a handful of boxing scenes that that show off some of the Havana native’s directorial pizzaz. In all, El Acompañante promises to be a strong Oscar pick with the potential to tug on those Academy heartstrings. We’ll just have to wait four or five more months to find out if El Acompañante makes the final cut.