The Breakthrough That Put Cuban Cinema on the Map

With 1968’s radically intimate and formally daring Memories of Underdevelopment, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea achieved what was then an unprecedented level of international attention for a Cuban filmmaker, winning awards in places as far flung as Czechoslovakia and the United States, where the film was initially banned. But the densely layered drama—which combines elliptical editing and subjective camera work to tell the story of a bourgeois intellectual (Sergio Corrieri) who finds himself adrift in postrevolutionary Havana—proved no less of a revelation at home. In the above clip, taken from a supplement on our new edition of Memories, critic José Antonio Évora assesses the outsize impact that the film had on the fledgling Cuban cinema. A cofounder, in 1959, of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, the government-run film commission, Gutiérrez Alea showed with Memories—and its restlessly critical and deeply conflicted protagonist, with his pronounced disengagement from the political reality he’s living in—that a film could serve the revolutionary cause not by parroting the state’s party line but rather by calling “everything into question,” as Évora says.

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