December 26, 1997 in Seven

A Romantic Comedy With An Edge

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If history has taught us anything, it is that no matter how difficult things become, humans have a way of surviving. Often even thriving.

In “Guantanamera,” the setting is modern-day Cuba. The humans in question comprise an assorted lot from former professor to undertaker, elderly musician to truck driver. The hardships include (redundancy alert) silly bureaucracies and uncompromising bureaucrats, high prices and low wages, uncertain transportation, vanities of the ego, the pain of lost love and, looking over it all, the angel of death.

But don’t get the idea that this little Cuban import is an overly dramatic plea against governmental repression. While it does document the plight of the ordinary soul survivor, it does so through comedy.

Yes, “Guantanamera” is something you don’t see every day: a politically minded romantic comedy. From Cuba.

The plot is simple: After being away from her native village of Guantanamo for 50 years, a famous singer returns to visit her niece Georgina (Mirtha Ibarra) and the man she left behind, Candido (Raul Eguren).

But in the throes of reconciliation, the woman - Tia Yoyita - suddenly dies.

Pause here for effect.

Now, it just so happens that Georgina’s husband, Adolfo (Carlos Cruz) is a bureaucratic weasel who - this can’t be a coincidence - resembles Nicaragua’s Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Hoping to ingratiate himself to the authorities, he has come up with a complicated plan to transport corpses for burial all across Cuba.

His hope is to save gas money, and he chooses Yoyita’s corpse with which to test his theory. He, Georgina and Candido, each for personal reasons, go along for the ride.

At the same time, a truck driver named Mariano heading across the country faces problems of his own. A consumate womanizer, Mariano finds himself confronted at every stop.

But Mariano, who really is a likeable guy, is pining away for his one-time university professor - who happens to be Georgina - and his dreams seems to come true as he bumps into her on the road. Which happens not once but multiple times.

So here’s the scenario: Adolfo wants to get the corpse buried for reasons of ambition; Georgina grieves the loss of her beloved aunt; Candido rues his lost last chance at love; Mariano wants to find the woman that he dreamed of while studying economics with Georgina.

There are others, too, such as Mariano’s partner Ramon (Pedro Fernandez), who suffers as much (or maybe more) from Mariano’s predilections than the younger man does. There is the cab driver who schemes to make a buck whenever he gets a chance. And there are the women who throw themselves at Mariano as if he were the answer to all their problems.

Lost hopes and misplaced dreams are the big themes of “Guantanamera.” But then so is tenacity, for it is through determined effort that happiness is bound to come to these struggling characters - if it’s going to come at all.

As one of the Cuban governmental mottos blares out from a road-side billboard, “The time has come to preserve our dreams.”

It is to the co-directors’ credit - especially Gutierrez Alea, who died after the film wrapped in 1995 - that they are able to present such serious themes while making us laugh.

Such laughs would seem to be rare in today’s Cuba.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Guantanamera” *** Locations: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio, starring Carlos Cruz, Mirtha Ibarra, Raul Eguren, Jorge Perugorria, Suset Perez Malberti Subtitles: In Spanish with English subtitles Running time: 1:41 Rating: Not rated

This sidebar appeared with the story: “Guantanamera” *** Locations: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio, starring Carlos Cruz, Mirtha Ibarra, Raul Eguren, Jorge Perugorria, Suset Perez Malberti Subtitles: In Spanish with English subtitles Running time: 1:41 Rating: Not rated


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