BITTER SUGAR
DIRECTOR: LEON ICHASO
COUNTRY: AMERICA/CUBA 1996
CINEMATOGRAPHY: CLAUDIO CHEA
MUSIC: JOSE FERRO JR, MANUEL TEJADA
CAST: Rene Lavan, Mayte Vilan, Miguel Gutierrez, Larry Villaneuva, Luis Celeiro, Teresa Maria Rojas, Orestes Matacena, Caridad RAvelo, Jorge Pupo, Victor Checo, Augusto Feria, Felix German

SUPER FEATURES: Awesome story. Beautifully told.


I don't know that there are too many films that know how to attack a failed system so well as this one does.

Yes, it is easy to take a love story and blame its tragic consequences on the youthful exuberance of the kids, or whatever. But few films have done it with an unbelievable style and dedication that this film shows. And if the Cuban system thinks it has done something for its people, maybe it should wake up and realize that if is failing miserably, and that it is going to destroy its own revolution if it does not do something about it.

Like so many other cultures, the hope is always away from home and Cuba is no different. Except that a few people admit that they stayed because they thought things would get better, only to find out later that they didn't get better at all. Most of it was deception. Or perhaps the system did not have the resources to do the things it promised and can not find a way to tell its own people that it does not know how to do things, and is trying to figure it out. No. Instead we hear a yet another political speech about the great success of the revolution, and how the imperialist powers have not won. Yes, says Fidel in the end, things are tense, but he is not offering a solution, just marking his time in power.

Whether this is true or not is not for me to say, but one thing is clear. It has affected the lives of many in the streets, and prevented them from living to the best of their abilities. It has curtailed educational chances, and potential gains in that system, by not providing chances, and instead, infusing these hopes with lies and deceit.

Gustavo, one night meets Yolanda, at a rock concert, where his brother's band is playing their version of Metallica  hard rock. The concert gets busted and broken up, of course, but Yolanda and Gustavo have met. And they seem to be falling genuinely in love. He is considered the "new man" in the Cuban revolution, and his teacher has hopes for him. Alas, these hopes are false, and it takes a while before Gustavo wakes up to it. They do agree on one thing. To not discuss politics. Gustavo believes in the system, since it has done him good, while Yolanda is less interested in these things, although we are not told why at the time.

What ensues is a tangled mess, a web of destruction of the human spirit in every form imaginable. Gustavo's brother is on a war path, and decided that injecting himself with aids tainted blood is his solution to the motto that he abhors. And Gustavo is seeing his own beliefs in the system crumbling moment by moment. His own father, a psychiatrist, ends up playing piano in a bar, where he makes ten times his wage.

But the pressures of every day are getting to Gustavo. Yolanda is beginning to take on to others, since her boyfriend is not interested in her any more than he is in his ideals, everything he was brought up to believe. And this gets Gustavo to go and discuss things with his brother, who is in an aids camp. And the unbelievable moment in the film happens here... Bobby says that he must be in paradise talking about life to people that are dead. The outcast, have a life after all, and it is not bad. It may not know how to say it too well, but it has a point. And this is the
turning point of the film. Gustavo decided to go and marry Yolanda. But there is a problem, now. Gustavo's main reason for not marrying Yolanda before was that he was going to Prague to school, a promise that his teacher had made at his graduation, a reward for his scholastic achievements. But now, Yolanda has found a way out with her mother. If he wants to marry her, he has to do it in Miami, because she is leaving in the early morning.

She leaves. And he is seen at a rally where Fidel Castro is delivering another of his notable addresses to the country. Gustavo's hopes are gone, nothing that he has been promised has ever come true, and he sees the emptiness in Fidel's words. He undertakes to do something about it. He happens upon a security guard's gun, and goes after Fidel, and a sharpshooter kills him on the way to the podium. The film ends with the note that he was said to be a "traitor to the revolution" and that Yolanda and her mother got intercepted by the US Coast Guard and are now living in New Jersey..... and we are sitting here crying and stunned.

There are not many films that can speak so much, in so little time as this one does. It keeps the story simple, and hopeful, until all the hopes becomes shattered one by one.... not just Gustavo's, but everyone else's including the lying teacher, whose own family is in Miami. His own father had been asked by his wife to leave before the revolution but he thought things would get better... here they were, steeped in lies, and shit.

While this film flows, it does not let on early that it is the political causes that are hurting people, but it ends with a massive bang, and closes the curtains before you can say anything. It is brilliantly directed, and shot in black and white, which is an interesting statement in itself. B&W is the "old" style and film. And by doing this, Leon Ichaso, can easily say that YES, the revolution may have had a few good points, but the days of the good points are gone, and it is time a system wakes up. With a film like this, one could hardly disagree.

Excellent film, with unbelievable music all over, it really deserves a larger audience, so people can get a better idea  of what closed political systems really do to their people. The middle east is full of these kinds of situations....

MUST SEE.

4.5 GIBLOONS

 

   

      

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