(Strawberry & Chocolate)
A Direct Satellite Review
By Stephanie Donald
Ever wonder where to see all the films you hear about but never seem to make it through your cable wire? The answer is DSS (Direct Satellite Service).
Those wonderful people at Direct TV and the USSB (United Satellite Service Broadcasting) deliver a virtual playground for all unserviceable couch potatoes.
One such gem, albeit an older film now, Strawberry & Chocolate, directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, is currently poking it's venerable head out of the closet on The Sundance Channel.
This simple gem of a movie was co-executive produced by the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford, and skillfully poised to film in Cuba with an-all Mexican cast and crew. So the story goes: Alea had to set up his shots quickly do the filming and then scatter the cast and crew before the Cuban National Police Force could turn his head into Gallagher's proverbial watermelon and the film into streamers.
The premise is simple and lovely: a gay anti-establishment man meets a Communist loyalist and makes a complete ass of himself by assuming the communist is gay. During their initial talk he lets too many things slip about underground gay society in Havana. Of course the communist thinks he should find out more about this to report to the authorities. Therefore, further visits ensue.
Then a peculiar thing happens: they become friends. As unlikely as this scenario sounds, Alea's direction and a strong cast of faces manage to pull it off beautifully. Although this film is subtitled and the script is softened through translation for sexually repressed Anglo-American ears (eyes?), the wit and drama are delivered in an almost Polaski fashion.
The most striking features of this film is the faces of the cast, not the scenery. Cherubic Latin faces of the women and honest, intense faces of the men are key features of this film that transcends language barriers or blockages we poor Americans experience: that it's work to read anything.
Another oddity about this film is the fact that it was distributed by Buena Vista Television. Doesn't ABC-Disney have enough to deal with concerning the Religious-Wrong after Ellen? Michael: we love ya', babe!
The plot winds through our communist's falling in love with a Vigilante woman (Anti-Communist) and the gay man finding his perfect match. We discover that the communist has softened in his view of humanity and the gay man has seen a few of the better things that Communism offers.
Though this film was released in 1993, it was played only in Bohemian avant-garde theatres in big cities with far-off sounding names. It may not have a big following by American film standards, but it deserves the attention of any film enthusiast interested in a de-construction of Castro's little corner of the globe. Seeing modern-day society in Gay-Havana is interesting considering that Castro has droned on that, "Ve haf no fags in our country!"
Four thumbs up from me!