Letters From The Park

  • 1988
  • Movie
  • Drama

An exquisite, adorably sad and funny look at a turn-of-century romantic trio that multiplies "Cyrano" by two, this 1988 film by Cuba's Tomas Gutierrez Alea — based on an original story by novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez — feels like Eric Rohmer gone Castillian: It's even constructed of four Rohmer-like episodes. "Primer Tiempo: Primavera/First...read more

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Reviewed by Frank Lovece
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An exquisite, adorably sad and funny look at a turn-of-century romantic trio that multiplies "Cyrano" by two, this 1988 film by Cuba's Tomas Gutierrez Alea — based on an original story by novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez — feels like Eric Rohmer gone Castillian: It's even constructed of four Rohmer-like episodes.

"Primer Tiempo: Primavera/First Part: Spring": In Matanzas, Cuba, 1913, a well-dressed crowd in parasols and straw hats attends the launching of a hot-air balloon piloted by émigré Frenchman Rene Simon (Adolfo Llaurado). Juan Ruiz (Miguel Paneque) exchanges coy glances with the prim, bashful Maria (Ivonne Lopez), then impulsively grabs onto a rope hanging from the rising balloon; Simon eventually lifts him aboard to safety. Some days later, Juan visits the office of a scrivener, a professional letter-writer of, generally, official correspondence. Juan hires the gentle, bear-like scrivener, a middle-aged poet named Pedro (Victor Laplace), to compose letters for Juan to send Maria. The first missive's beautiful language immediately smites the sweet if intellectually unchallenged young woman, who lives with her wealthy godparents. Responding, she coincidentally uses the same scrivener as Juan. Juan, of course, then returns to Pedro, a natty philosopher who begins plotting out Juan's romantic strategy. "I didn't know that loving is so complicated," Juan marvels.

"Segundo Tiempo: Verano/Second Part: Summer": On a demure rowboat outing, Juan tells Maria of his dream to fly, and of how he's experimenting with small hot-air balloons until he learns how to construct a real one. Later, the scrivener-poet watches as the chaste young couple ends an idyllic day. Later still, at a brothel, the weary Pedro tells an old-pal prostitute, Milagros (Mirta Ibarra), that both whores and poets both make their living the same way — from other people's need for love. Juan and Maria keep meeting with Pedro as "their" letters go back and forth. Sometime later, Milagros tells Pedro, whom she herself secretly loves, about a ship's captain proposing marriage. But the oblivious Pedro has fallen for Maria. Juan, while waiting for Maria elsewhere, reintroduces himself to Simon, who offers to teach Juan to fly — but in Havana, where he's relocating.

"Tercer Tiempo: Otono/Third Part: Autumn": When Maria laments to the resigned Pedro how unpoetic Juan seems to be in person, he counsels patience. Juan, meantime, has accidentally set his uncle's home and pharmacy ablaze with a hot-air experiment, the latest in a string of accidents that finally gets him thrown out. He goes to tell Maria, but her godmother — who's intercepted one of "his" letters and considers him a ne'er-do-well dreamer — tells him Maria's on an extended trip. Believing her, Juan visits Pedro to say he and Maria are through, and he's going to Havana. He adds optimistically that without his love for Maria having spurred him, events would never have led him to go pursue his dream.

"Cuarto Tiempo: Invierno/Fourth Part: Winter": Pedro has grown ever more despondent now that Maria no longer comes by for letters. He begins sending her postcards from "Juan" (who'd told him he was going to fly around the world), using stamps from his collection and a mailman friend. Pedro encourage Maria to write Juan her own letters, and she does so — revealing to recipient Pedro all her eloquent pain and desires, and her touching, poetically observed memories of her late parents. Shortly afterward, she learns Juan hasn't been around the world, but in Havana, and is due to fly over Matanzas shortly. Pedro, having heard the news himself, is devastated. Seeing it all unravel, he writes Maria one last letter — from himself, confessing all and saying that he's moving away. Finally understanding the truth, finally growing up from a crush to real love, she rushes to the grateful poet's side.

Gutierrez Alea — who co-wrote the screenplay with Eliseo Alberto and Garcia Marquez himself — uses deceptively simple yet evocative direction that moves the tale crisply along. In this tony, eloquent world, even a brothel girl can gently tell the depressed Pedro that "solitude brings bad counsel, poet." Dialog and action resonate and ripple with multiple meanings that make themselves obvious only later in a movie filled with subtle, magical moments. Certainly, the film uses archetypes, and arrives at a preordained destination. But getting there is a wonderful walk through the park. Apparently made for Spanish television, it was shown at film festivals from 1988-89 before premiering in the U.S. as part of PBS's "Great Performances" series on November 17, 1989. It made its American theatrical debut in Los Angeles in 1990, then went directly to video — a half-hidden masterpiece by one of Latin America's leading filmmakers.

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  • Released: 1988
  • Review: An exquisite, adorably sad and funny look at a turn-of-century romantic trio that multiplies "Cyrano" by two, this 1988 film by Cuba's Tomas Gutierrez Alea — based on an original story by novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez — feels like Eric Rohmer g… (more)

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