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The Sugar Curtain (2005)

El telón de azúcar (original title)
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A portrayal of the singular experience shared by people of her generation -- those living Cuba's utopian dream during the golden era of the revolution. It is also a lament for the end of that dream, which began to fizzle after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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A portrayal of the singular experience shared by people of her generation -- those living Cuba's utopian dream during the golden era of the revolution. It is also a lament for the end of that dream, which began to fizzle after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Epicentre Films [France]



Release Date:

10 October 2007 (France)  »

Also Known As:

The Sugar Curtain  »

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Memoir of a lost paradise of youth in post-revolutionary Cuba
11 May 2007 | by See all my reviews

When the Berlin Wall came down and then the Soviet Union fell Cuba had the rug pulled out from under it. More totally dependent on Russia than they knew, Cubans in the1990's faced a time of devastating scarcity they call the "Special Period." This meant hours waiting for a bus or a loaf of bread; no longer making enough to pay for basic necessities; no longer having security or hope for the future. Camila Guzmán Urzúa made The Sugar Curtain/ El Telón Azúkar to represent her experience and that of members of her generation -- who regard their growing-up time in the 1970's and 1980's as halcyon days of idealism, happiness, and hope. When the "Special Period" came, Guzmán and many others of the best and brightest of her generation left Cuba. This personal documentary is their story, their reminiscence, with a look at people and things in Cuba today filmed for comparison.

"It has been twelve years since I left Cuba," Guzmán writes in a statement to go with her film, "yet it is always on my mind.. . Now I go back and the old country has disappeared." Revisiting Cuba with a camera, Guzmán talks to family and friends and films her old schools and examines photos and documents and historical footage to fill in the background on three decades. If it provides a good deal of general information for non-Cubans along the way, The Sugar Curtain still isn't formal history or polemic. Though she covers good and bad aspects of "her" Cuba, Guzmán is not concerned with abstract critiques, ideological debates, or political analysis. More than anything, her film is the memoir of a childhood and the portrait of a faded dream.

Born in Chile, Guzmán was brought to Havana by her parents after the coup against Allende when she was two. Her parents believed in the ideals of the Cuban Revolution and were enthusiastic participants in its life. She grew up in Cuba, left in 1990 at age nineteen; lived and studied in Spain, England, and Chile; and for the past seven years has studied and worked France.

"We were raised according to 'revolutionary ideals,'" Guzmán says in her statement, "in a place where we all felt equal and where material values had lost importance. We were part of a huge laboratory, full of good intentions, in which the 'new man' that Che Guevara had imagined was being built.. . .We lived with a somewhat precarious daily comfort, used to the rationing or lack of certain products. But in Cuba, still today, people have always improvised (inventar we say) every problem has and still has a solution. . . It came naturally to us to receive medicine and education totally free; we considered it our right. All basic necessities were accessible to everybody. Unemployment didn't exist, everybody had a roof over his head.. . .I remember a sense of solidarity everywhere, and also the constant reminding of the fact the country could be invaded at any time. . " (But she adds in the film that she doesn't remember ever being afraid.) "Now. . .when I see (Cuba's) reality today I feel an immense emptiness inside. . . there is nothing left, only some of my dear friends, the buildings' facades and the sea. I feel as if my childhood has been torn away.. . The intention of this film is to rescue that reality we had when we were children.." Somewhat paradoxically, when Guzmán films students and classrooms in Cuba today, they are still full of the revolutionary ideals -- and as cheerful and happy as in the past. Otherwise everything is different: people feel the need to cheat and steal to survive, one woman says. There are two economies, of the peso and the dollar, and people think ceaselessly of money -- never a concern in the 1980's. The film makes no predictions. It only asks what will happen. The filmmaker says Cuba didn't have "real communism," because its economic situation was artificial, due to the combination of the US blockade and Russian support. The sense of equality and solidarity her generation talks about however was real, in her view. Neither socialism nor capitalism rules Cuba today, she says; both are present. Will western capitalism take over, or will there be a new Fidel-style capitalism? All that's clear is that Cuba's a shell now.

Guzmán's parents are separated and her father lives in Spain. Her mother, who remains in Havana, speaks only very briefly to the camera (with Guzmán seen in a mirror), haltingly expressing an enduring sadness about the coup against Allende and gratitude toward Cuba for the home and security it provided to them, along with citizenship, as it did to many others. The director has a friend who's in a musical group called Habana Abierta, who does a lot of talking; some of his group also speak, and we see them perform one political song at a concert.

Despite the film's sense of a lost paradise, paradoxically the filmed present-day Cuban schoolchildren still unmistakably seem happy. This is notable in classrooms, in school hallways, and most of all on a work-study summer vacation in the country much like the ones the filmmaker experienced at the same age. The saddest moment of the film is when Guzmán and a friend remember the names of several dozen of their good friends, who have all gone, to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Canada, and on and on. One begins to suspect that whatever the voices in Miami may say, the Cuban Revolution nonetheless, for many, for three decades, was a time of great hope and no small accomplishment. Though the camera-work may be clumsy at times, the arc a bit inconclusive, the value of this personal documentary is its emotionally convincing portrait of a vanished childhood and lost ideals.

This first feature by Guzmán was shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.

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