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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
Leon Ichaso's "Azucar Amarga" came and went without much fanfare. This was a film made with little money and without any big distributor to give it more exposure in the American market. The film is critical of the way Cuba, as a society, started the current trend after the loss of patronage of the old Soviet Union in the late eighties. In order to get the badly needed hard currency, Cuba opened its doors to a massive invasion of international tourism, mainly from Europe and South America. With that, the US dollar was legalized. The results can be seen in this film that examines that society.
First of all, for those that have expressed their skepticism about the young people injecting themselves with AIDS infected blood, obviously, they haven't read the accounts by different world newspapers, and the New York Times, locally. This is a phenomenon that desperate people will resort to in order to escape the fact they are looked down in their own society for daring to be different.
The other aspect one sees in the film is the prostitution being practiced among young women with college education as a way to make ends meet. This kind of sex tourism is being practiced in the island. European men flock to Cuba in search of beautiful women they couldn't otherwise afford in their own countries. Yolanda, the beautiful woman in the film, turns to the Italian Claudio as a way to have things she couldn't have otherwise.
Another issue in the film involves the equality the revolution promised. When Gustavo and Yolanda go to the beach bar to get a cold drink, they are turned away. Since everything must be paid in dollars, it's clear the two young lovers don't belong. The hotels are basically for tourists that can pay and not the poor locals. Gustavo's father is another typical example of how some professionals, trying to get access to dollars, go into tourist oriented jobs like playing piano in hotel lounges. Thomas, is a psychiatrist whose job in the local currency equals about a few dollars a month!
Leon Ichaso and his collaborators clearly know what they are talking about. The result is a film that is an eye opener about what the reality is in that unfortunate land. The revolution might have started with good intentions, but after more than forty years the only way to make it out of there is either to marry a foreigner, or take to the open seas and hope they make it to either Miami, or Central America, if the sharks don't get to them first.
Claudio Chea's black and white cinematography works well in the film. The music score is pleasant. Rene Lavan, Mayte Villain, Miguel Gutierrez and the rest of the cast respond well to the direction Mr. Ichaso gave them. This is a film that tries to make sense of what's going on in that country.
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