Gustavo is a young Havana Communist who believes in the revolution; he hopes for a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering in Prague. But his faith in the new Cuba is tested: his ...
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Gustavo is a young Havana Communist who believes in the revolution; he hopes for a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering in Prague. But his faith in the new Cuba is tested: his father, a psychiatrist, can make four times as much playing piano at a hotel for foreigners; his sweetheart, Yolanda, wants a career as a dancer and longs for the riches of Miami; his younger brother Bobby simply wants to play rock music, and as a result is in constant trouble with the authorities. When Bobby takes a shocking step of revolt and Gustavo is refused service at a foreigners-only bar, the contradictions in his resolve to become a "new man" push him to the breaking point. Written by
"Azucar Amarga" (translated "Bitter Sugar") was a totally ignored foreign language film gem that never really found an audience when it was initially released in 1996. It is modern-day Cuba and two young adults (Rene Lavan and Matye Vilan) seem to be finding love with one another. Lavan believes in Castro's Cuba and the Revolution. He also dreams of going to university in Prague to become an aeronautical engineer. He quickly falls in love with Vilan, but her life and opportunities do not seem near as bright. She realizes that Cuba is not the place for her and that the United States (namely Miami) is the key to her overall survival. Lavan just dismisses what he feels are distorted views from Vilan until he becomes an enemy in the Cuban machine due to his younger brother's wild antics (played superbly by scene-stealer Larry Villanueva). Villanueva is disenchanted by the fact that he is unable to play the music he loves in his band and also the fact that he (and no one in the country for that matter) has any say in turbulent Cuba. He takes drastic measures (intentionally infecting himself with AIDS via blood from a syringe) to get his message across to the peoples of his homeland. And of course later on Vilan becomes little more than a glorified prostitute to foreigners at a high-class Cuban resort that does not allow Lavan in. In the end, all will make life-altering decisions to escape their lives in Cuba. "Bitter Sugar" is one of those raw foreign films that works because of outstanding writing and solid direction. The performers are all perfect as well. Vilan is illuminating in a film of darkness. Her amazing beauty and versatility makes a lasting impression. She is the most memorable part in a film full of solid memories. Shot entirely in black-and-white, the production creates a tone that makes the audience feel the hopelessness and depression of a country that has somewhat found itself in limbo since Castro's takeover on December 31, 1959. 5 stars out of 5.
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