Strawberry and Chocolate is nothing short of ground-breaking, in every sense of the word. Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, the master of Cuban filmmaking, this film offers a provocative insight into 1970s Cuba, shamelessly critiquing Castro’s regime even all the way back in 1994. And yet, as actors Mirtha Ibarra and Vladimir Cruz revealed in the candid Q&A that followed the screening, the film still had 10,000 people give it a standing ovation after its first ever screening.
Strawberry and Chocolate follows the unlikely friendship of two young men; David
(Vladimir Cruz), a naive university student who firmly (and perhaps, as the movie suggests, blindly) believes in the Communist Party’s ideas, and Diego, a cultured gay man whose criticism of the regime, illegal activities and sexuality have made him an outcast. Diego initially approaches David with the intention of seducing him, and we are treated to a scene where Diego attempts to use his wit and flamboyance to lure David into his bed, talking about what Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and Hercules might have in common with him. This comedic moment, however, turns uncomfortable when David, overwhelmed, calls Diego a slur and runs away angry and scared. This scene is a clear example of how Strawberry and Chocolate rides the line between funny and brutally dramatic, a tone that prevails throughout the movie.
Shortly after that, we get introduced to Nancy (Mirtha Ibarra), a suicidal prostitute who
never fails to provide a touch of humor in the otherwise rather dark moments of the film. Her already strange relationship with her neighbor Diego (who, despite claiming that he hates her, saves her life on several occasions and casually bickers with her in several more) becomes even more strained when she enters the love triangle formed by these three characters, where both Diego and Nancy are chasing David.
The rest of the movie sees the development of these three characters; Diego becomes
increasingly excluded from society after his attempts to host an art exhibition that
challenges the regime, David becomes critical of the lack of freedom of expression in Cuba and accepting of Diego’s homosexuality, all the while entering a relationship with Nancy. After a couple of cathartic fight scenes between the protagonists, it becomes apparent that Diego has to leave the country as a consequence of being too outspoken in regards to his censored art exhibit.
I thought Strawberry and Chocolate was a very enjoyable movie that provided in-depth
insight into communist Cuba and the social issues that plagued it, with an understanding of its culture that can only be provided by the people who lived in that period. But more than just social and ideological commentary, the film presents realistic characters and a
compelling story that will stay with the viewer for a long time.
[Leire Zalakain – she/her – @leitxipiron]