No Sex Please – We're Cuban

Strawberry and Chocolate

Strawberry & Chocolate [1994] (REGION 1) (NTSC)

Coming to this film without any preconceptions, I found it a charming love-story. The Gay, bourgeois Diego (Jorge Perugariia) bets his camp, sculptor friend that he can pick up the sweet-faced David, a serious-minded young Communist. He doesn’t (quite) but a cagey relationship develops, where David (Vladimir Cruz) shares his interest in verse with Diego, who, in return, gets him into Scotch whisky, Marboro, Art and suppressed elements of Cuba’s cultural identity. (By no means all of it suppressed by the Castro regime). It iSean asexual version of the role of homosexual as mentor praised by, for example, Bryan Magee, in his 1957 book One in Twenty.

Diego places himself in an awkward position by complaining to Ministry of Culture about the aborting of a dissident art exhibition he had arranged with help from foreign embassies. He tries to prevent the disappointed artist from smashing his sculptures. These are gigantic representations of Catholic repository tat-art. This is the nearest the film gets to substantiating Diego’s claim to be “religious”.

David, in the meantime, has to stonewall (as in Jackson, not the zeatlot who shares his university accomodation. David is study ing engineering for social/socialist reasons. He gets [most of] his kit of at this juncture, and very satisfying it is too. The way he behaves, the way he allows his macho friend’s presuppositions to work to his advantage means that David is behaving like a closeted gay man. Contrasting with Diego who is right in-your-face.

As the film proceeds Diego becomes softer, as in less brittle and David’s presence. Eventually they embrace after Diego has escorted David around the dying Havana (looking stunning in this episode) “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”, prior to Diego going into unwanted, but inevitable exile.

This film was the object of a lengthy and ill-tempered review in , Sound, the high-brow answer TVQuick. The reviewer took the Director (Tomas Gutierrez Alea)* to task for making ‘a film of the sort that was made, on the subject of homosexuality, in the UK in the 1960Seand in the USA in the ’70s. Given the sexual culture of Cuba and Spanish America in general, that means that this film is more “advanced” than say, Victim [UK, 1962] or practically anything from the States before 1982’s Making Love.

Diego, despite what the above reviewer thought, isn’t a reactionary, or even a mere snob. He is a Cavalier. David is a Roundhead, Castro is Cuba’s Cromwell. That is why there is ambiguity about him in the Cuban population. He is leading them down a Via Dolorosa: but it is being paved by Uncle Sam. When Diego rails at his beloved Havana disintegrating into “the shit”, he is not only, (or even) railing at the Revolution, but at America which will not allow a bag of cement – or baby-food – into the Republic of Cuba.

* Alea was a very distinguished director, of Memories of Under -development for example, he was dying of cancer in the course of the making of this film. He was helped by another director called Carlos, Tabio – upstart

upstart has no view on the current regime in Cuba. But when the German Democratic [?] Republic allowed a Gay-themed film to be made the state collapsed! )

[Sean McGouran]

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