By 1961, when the Bay of Pigs Invasion took place, the Cuban Revolution had transformed the island nation, which was once known by tourists as “The Paris of the Caribbean,” into a communist society and forced many to flee the country into exile to the United States. At such a crucial moment in its history, the new government decided it was important to incorporate cinema into their cultural priorities and inaugurated the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) in 1959, a national studio initially aimed to educate the masses.
One of the studio’s first international acclaimed productions came in 1968, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memorias del subdesarollo (Memories of Underdevelopment), a daring portrait of Cuba at the time told via the fictional persona of bourgeois aspiring writer Sergio Carmona Mendoyo (played by Sergio Corrieri). His observations as a wealthy man who decides to stay in his homeland (despite seeing his parents, wife, and friends leave) are sharply critical of Fidel’s ideals and profoundly insightful about its relationship with the world outside.
Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, and still as relevant now as Cuba experiences another transitional period, a new 4K restoration of Memories of Underdevelopment will screen in the United States this January.
Entirely shot in black-and-white, resembling the auteur works being created in countries like France and Italy, Gutiérrez Alea’s most famous film is beautifully assembled from candid footage shot on the streets of Havana, newsreels, censored American clips, and evocative voiceover that guides the audience through it all. Structurally, the movie doesn’t follow a traditionally linear path. Instead it’s a collection of glimpses and moments as if ripped from the storyteller’s mind.
This artistically ingenious and historically significant cinematic document is essential viewing for anyone who wishes to understand Cuba and Latin America’s relationship with world powers. Now you have a chance to see it on the big screen.
Memories of Underdevelopment will run for a week at the Film Forum in New York starting January 12, 2018.