With its call girls and sleazy casinos, Havana re-creates the decadent last gasps of Cuba’s old regime vividly enough, but what happened after Fidel Castro took over? For an insider’s glimpse at life after the revolution, check out Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), widely regarded as the best Cuban film ever made. While Gutiérrez Alea, 62, is aligned with the Castro government (he is a founding member of Cuba’s state-run film institute), Memories of Underdevelopment is anything but Communist propaganda. The black-and-white film depicts a bourgeois dilettante as he languishes in Havana, fantasizing about women and typing dull prose to while away his time. Intellectual, funny, and profound, it intersperses stark documentary footage of the revolution with the splintered tale of apolitical Sergio, who begins an affair with the priceless pickup line: ”You have beautiful knees. Do you want to have dinner with me?” How can Robert Redford even touch that one?
Other films on video by Gutiérrez Alea include The Last Supper (1976), based on the real story of an 18th-century slaveholder, and Letters From the Park (1988), a romantic drama adapted from a portion of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera. His Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), a satire made in response to the overwhelming bureaucracy of the ’60s, will be released on video in June.