Feature – France, Spain / International Première
This portmanteau film looks at Cuba’s crumbling capital from both the outsiders’ and insiders’ perspectives. It’s perhaps to be expected that the visitors’ point of view paints a more exoticised and romantic picture of Havana than the citizens’ tales. Benicio Del Toro’s opener in particular is almost a travelogue, selling the open, warm and sultry greeting that the Yuma (slang for American) could expect on arrival.
In contrast, Palestinian director Elia Sulieman’s traveller’s tale, with the director wordlessly wandering the city observing its people, is by far the most pointed and perceptive of the outsider segments. It shows with wry simplicity a city squeezed uncomfortably between communism, consumerism and the need for the tourist dollar. The best of the insider stories belongs to Cuban native Juan Carlos Tabío. Living up to its title – Bittersweet begins as a domestic comedy about overcoming obstacles to bake for a party before giving way to something more heartrending. Tabío manages the transition exquisitely, with a depth of storytelling that avoids the cigar and salsa clichés. This isn’t revolutionary filmmaking and it’s a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, but as an innovative way of getting behind the fading façade of this fascinating city, it’s no bay of pigs either.
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