Memories of Underdevelopment


Havana, 1961. At the airport, refugees go through the necessary formalities before leaving for the United States. Sergio, a prosperous landlord and self-styled writer, is seeing off his wife and parents, having himself elected to stay and try to come to terms with the new society. His last remaining friend, Pablo, has also decided to leave for America and tries to persuade Sergio to accompany him, but Sergio is determined to stay. Upon returning, he remembers a violent argument with his wife. Then, sitting listlessly around his apartment, he loses himself in erotic reveries; attracted by his cleaning girl, Noemi, he daydreams a sexual encounter with her. Later he picks up a girl, Elena, in the street, promising to introduce her to a film director friend of his, and they have dinner; after her interview, they return to Sergio’s apartment and he makes love to her. Finding his new girlfriend to be culturally ‘underdeveloped’, Sergio tries to broaden her intellectual horizons, taking her to art museums, bookstores, etc. Later, as he and Elena visit Hemingway’s house, Sergio decides to end the affair.
Realizing that he must try to come to terms with his own life as well as with the new society, Sergio examines his past experiences, remembering in particular his affair with Hannah, a German refugee. Interspersed with Sergio’s remembrances is newsreel footage of then-current events in Cuba, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.

One day he arrives back at his apartment to find Elena waiting for him. He sneaks into the apartment block by another entrance and pretends to be out when she rings at the door. Elena takes her revenge on him by accusing him of raping her; he is brought before the magistrates, but is finally acquitted. It is now 1962, the time of the missile crisis, and Cuba mobilizes for possible invasion by U.S. Sergio, desolate and hopeless, can only watch and wait.

Synopsis from New Yorker Films. (1968, 97 mins, 16mm/DVD)

Black Cinema House | 7200 South Kimbark Ave.

This screening is part of the Thursday Free Form series, a selection of films curated by BCH Film Fellow Marco G. Ferrari that feature artists who push cinematic conventions, works that draw out themes tied to urban development, and performances that mix live image and sound.