A highlight of the Human Rights Watch filmfest is a retrospective tracing the career of Tomas Gutierrez Alea, the most widely respected director ever to emerge from Cuba's film industry.
He is best known to American audiences for "Strawberry and Chocolate," which earned an Academy Award nomination last year with its gently told story of a young Castro supporter who strikes up an acquaintance with a homosexual in order to gather evidence against him, but learns to understand him and become his friend.
Films in the retrospective include:
r "Memories of Underdevelopment," 1968. Probably the most acclaimed of all Cuban films, this subtle and serious comedy focuses on a man who remains in Havana after Castro's revolution, even though his family and friends have chosen to leave the country. Caught between the old order and the new regime, he must come to grips with his inner self in ways he'd always hoped to avoid.
r "Death of a Bureaucrat," 1966. This is the pitch-black comedy that first established Alea as a major filmmaker. Its hero is a young man who's determined to assure a proper burial for his late uncle, but finds himself lost in a bureaucratic maze of red tape, paperwork, and officials who go by the book even where funerals are concerned.
r "Up to a Certain Point," 1983. The hero is a filmmaker who wants to expose Cuban machismo in his new movie, but gets a glimpse of his own macho attitudes when he falls in love with a female worker he's interviewing for background information. Best described as a romantic comedy with strong sociopolitical overtones, the movie is smartly written, crisply filmed, and expertly acted.
Also in the retrospective are "Twelve Chairs," based on the same Russian novel that inspired Mel Brooks's comedy of the same title; "The Survivors," about a family that attempts to ignore Castro's revolution, with surrealistic results; and "Cumbite," one of several films made with Cuba's large Haitian community. A number of Alea's films are available on cassette from New Yorker Video.