STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE, the story of a friendship between two very different Cuban men, is the most audience-friendly movie to date by Cuba's best-known director, Tomas Gutierrez Alea (MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT). Based on a prize-winning short story by Senel Paz, this surprisingly
slight film is a warm and fuzzy plea for tolerance that never becomes fully engaging.
David (Vladimir Cruz) is a political science student on the rebound from a failed romance. He is idealistic, serious, and deeply committed to the revolution. Diego (Jorge Perugorria) is a homosexual artist, hedonistic, flamboyant, naturally rebellious, and grappling with a troubled relationship of
his own. The two meet in a Havana ice cream parlor, where Diego tries vainly to pick David up. An unusual friendship commences. They seem complete antagonists at first, but Diego joyously exposes David to the wonders of banned books, local architecture, Maria Callas, John Donne, Johnny Walker Red,
and English tea sipped from Sevres cups. David, who had initially planned to spy on Diego and report his subversive behavior to the Party, gradually begins to feel affection for this impenitent rebel, as well as a need to protect him.
Bopping around their periphery is Nancy (Mirta Ibarra), a wild neighbor with suicidal tendencies who blithely rids David of his virginity. Less happily, there is also Miguel (Francisco Gatorno), David's macho, intolerant roommate, who causes grief for Diego after the artist writes an angry letter
to the authorities protesting the censorship of an exhibit he is mounting. Ultimately, despite his deep love for his country, Diego realizes he must leave Cuba and bids a wry, fond farewell to his young comrade.
The basic premise here--gay libertine vs. uptight heterosexual Communist--reeks of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, but without the melodrama. While the central relationship and slim story line are tastefully rendered, perhaps a bit of melodrama would have helped to bring the film to life. Presumably due
to censorship, Cuba's long history of homophobic oppression is largely avoided. The film's rather muted political subtext is unfortunately matched by the mildness of the screenplay.
US audiences are likely to find the characters old-fashioned and stereotypical--Diego and David behave in strictly prescribed, predictable ways, the former ever characterized by outrage and dynamic emotions, the latter always reactive and wary. The film seems about to fortuitously shift gears when
Diego takes David on a rhapsodic tour of the still-extant glories of Havana, but the sequence is truncated, and we return once more to the site of most of the action, Diego's artifact-filled warren of an apartment. The handsome Perugorria is something of a Cuban Jean Brodie with his character's
endless culture-vulture pronouncements about life, art, and haute cuisine. He's amusing and affecting, but the character wants fleshing out. Cruz is okay as the unwilling love object, but the film dwells too much on his narcissistic mooning over his former girlfriend. (Nudity, adult situations,sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE, the story of a friendship between two very different Cuban men, is the most audience-friendly movie to date by Cuba's best-known director, Tomas Gutierrez Alea (MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT). Based on a prize-winning short story b… (more)