A Cuban worker dies accidentally and is buried together with his union card. It soon turns out that the widow will absolutely need the card for claiming her pension. Young nephew starts his hilarious fight against the authorities in order to disinter and rebury his uncle and retrieve the precious document.Written by
Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Death of a Bureaucratic, Cuba, 1966
In a time of struggle between the United States and Cuba, when film was forbidden to leave Cuba, Tomas Gutierrez Alea managed to smuggle his Death of a Bureaucratic from his country. This great feat allowed Americans to view a Cuban's cinematography and also his satirical perspective of Cuban society under the reign of Castro. I believe that Alea did a wonderful job of showing how society and government worked during that time by using humor to depict a dark time. There was much symbolism present and foreshadowing. Since he was successful in turning otherwise disturbing situations into humorous ones, I think he could catch a broader audience and allow them to gain a small view of the situation in Cuba.
As the basis of the film, I believe that Alea was trying to show the government in the time of Castro rule. The Death of a Bureaucratic is a very fitting title to show this theme. Throughout the film there are scenes of artists' artwork advertising the smashing of bureaucracy. The overseer of the art was constantly critiquing his artists' works, telling them that the biceps needed to be much larger. Was this an attempt to portray that one must flex their muscles in order to appear, and not necessarily be, stronger and mightier? That Cuba or Castro was stronger and mightier than anyone else? Also, I believe that the major component of showing government in that time was how the nephew had to jump through so many hoops in order to obtain a simple document. First, he needed Paco's work card (for which he had been buried with). Then after unearthing Paco illegally, he had to get the same paperwork to bury him again. The humorous and frustrating parts were how many people and departments that the nephew had to see and go through in order to receive the approval to bury his uncle again. A funny part showing the regime of Castro was when one office worker was distributing a set amount of toilet paper to another. I thought it amusing and a good way to show how stringent and strict the government was.
There was a multitude of symbolism. I question the importance of beginning and ending the film with the sculpted angel in the cemetery. Paco was a sculptor and part of the story's theme was based on death – burying Paco, unearthing him, trying to rebury him and the demise of his nephew. Was the angel just a theatrical addition or possibly one showing the death of two souls? The sculptures also come into play that Paco was attempting to create a bust of Castro for every family in Cuba. In the end, that came to the demise of Paco and his nephew.
Death was highly prevalent in some obscure and obvious ways. I thought it funny that outside the first office the nephew enters, to get the needed approval, there is a man sitting with a scythe. Then the waiter has fangs at the restaurant where the nephew comes to an agreement with the cemetery crew to help him open his uncle's casket. Another amusing aspect that I noticed was that the mortician had a skeleton hanging in his rear-view mirror. The blackbirds that the nephew kept seeing, I believe, foreshadowed his impending demise and kept with a theme of death.
As far as the cinematography, there were many elements I thought interesting. The one that stood out most to me was when Paco's machine malfunctioned and he was attempting to fix it. That scene differed from the rest of the movie. It was cartoon-like. The accelerated motion added to this element. That scene reminded me of movies during Charlie Chaplin's time when there was no sound and the actors were over-dramatic in order to express the emotion and events in the film. I thought the transitions between scenes were defined and effective. It seemed to me that they were close to what we see in movies today. Alea's choice of score blended in to where I didn't feel that it overpowered the shot or effectiveness of the acting and film but was rather mostly an enhancement.
A review from IMDb.com references the dream sequences used by Alea. They make reference that these are similar to those of Bunnel. Said dream sequences baffled me. There was an homage made to Alea's friend, Dali, when the nephew, Juanchin, was pulling the coffin. This was a sign of carrying a heavy weight or baggage. Although the dreams were a prominent part in the film, I found them confusing and creepy.
All in all, I believe that Alea's Death of a Bureaucratic was a humorous portrayal of the darker time under Castro's rule.
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