Memories of Underdevelopment Review

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Having seen his family go into exile, Cuban bourgeois Sergio begins keeping a diary and takes himself a teenage working-class mistress, Elena, as he seeks to avoid coming to terms with the realities of Castro's Revolution.


Tomas Gutiérrez Alea's fifth film was adapted from a 1962 novel by Edmundo Desnoes. As with many of Alea's features, it centred on a character out of step with his times and raised issues that suggested that the 1959 Revolution was still very much a work in progress. However, by raising the dilemma of whether Sergio should remain solitary or express solidarity with his compatriots, Alea gave the picture a dialectical power that was absent from more prosaic pieces of state-sponsored propaganda.

This is one of the most challenging political films ever made. Alea isn't content with presenting both sides of the argument, he also adopts a complex narrative structure that approximates Sergio's subjectivity, while simultaneously implying the more objective communality of his Havana neighbours.  

The use of documentary footage and other archival material chronicles events between the exodus that followed the 1961 Bay of Pigs crisis and the ensuing year's missile stand-off between Kennedy and Khruschev. However, Alea frequently presents these images from Sergio's perspective and, thus, emphasises his status as an outsider who lacks the courage to follow his family into exile, while retaining the arrogance of his class - hence his continuing to reside in a comfortable apartment while living off the profits of his property and his attempt to exploit Elena, in much the same way that America had sought to colonise Cuba.  

Moreover, Alea exposes Sergio's intellectual superficiality by demonstrating how his Western attitudes and affectations distance him from the true Cuban character and it's Sergio's underdevelopment as both a citizen and a human being, as much as the state of the nation in the aftermath of the Batista regime, that provides the film's focus.  

 Memories bears the influence of neo-realism (which Alea had experienced at first hand in the 1950s), the dialectical Marxism of the Soviet montagists and the filmic audacity of the nouvelle vague. But it also typifies Alea's belief that cinema had a duty to criticise society, as unless its failings were explored they could never be rectified.

Very complex but well worth the attention you'll need to pay it to even vaguely catch every nuance.