Gutiérrez Alea, Tomás (1928–1996)

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Gutiérrez Alea, Tomás (1928–1996)

After achieving critical and commercial success in the 1960s with a series of films that skillfully combined humor, experimental techniques, and a critical analysis of Cuban politics, history, and culture, the Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (December 11, 1928–April 16, 1996) came to be widely regarded as one of the most important filmmakers in Latin America. Gutiérrez Alea received a law degree from the Universidad de la Habana in 1951; then he studied cinema at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, graduating in 1953. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Gutiérrez Alea contributed to the creation of the Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), a state-supported institute whose main vision was to use cinema to educate the people in revolutionary values. After contributing to several documentaries made by ICAIC, such as Esta tierra Nuestra (1959; This land of ours) (1959) and Muerte al invasor (1961; Death to the invader), and directing his first two feature films, Las doce sillas (1962; The twelve chairs) and Cumbite (1964; The communal gathering), Gutiérrez Alea directed his first truly important film, Muerte de un burócrata (Death of a bureaucrat), in 1966. The film includes several elements that would become trademarks of Gutiérrez Alea's films: a realistic, often somber portrayal of Cuban society that is counterbalanced by burlesque, albeit sometimes dark humor, and an honest, biting criticism of the limitations of the revolutionary regime (in this case, its official bureaucracy), to which Gutiérrez Alea remained nonetheless always loyal. In Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968; Memories of underdevelopment) (based on the novel of the same name by Edmundo Desnoes), those characteristics are joined by an experimental style in the form of a self-referential film in a documentary style that includes real footage of events such as the failed invasion of Bay of Pigs. In its episodic, fragmented plot, the film follows the life of a Cuban writer who is unable to join in the enthusiasm for the revolution and yet is also unwilling to leave Cuba; eventually, his life drifts into paralysis. The film is widely regarded as Gutiérrez Alea's masterpiece and as one of the most important films ever made in Latin America. Gutiérrez Alea's other films include: Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (1971; A Cuban fight against the demons) (based on the book of the same name by Fernando Ortiz) and La última cena (The Last Supper, 1976), which are explorations of nineteenth-century Cuban society; Hasta cierto punto (Up to a Certain Point, 1984), which deals with the position of women in revolutionary Cuba; Cartas del parque (Letters from the Park, 1989), a romantic comedy with a script by Gabriel García Márquez; Fresa y chocolate (1993; Strawberry and chocolate), about the prejudice against homosexuals in Cuba; and his last film, Guantanamera (1995), which combines his usual elements of humor and social criticism in the lighter form of a love story. Gutiérrez Alea won numerous national and international prizes, including an Oscar nomination for Fresa y chocolate. In addition to his work as a director, Gutiérrez Alea wrote several theoretical essays that address the relation between cinema and politics.

See alsoBay of Pigs Invasion; Cinema: From the Silent Film to 1990; Cinema: Since 1990; Cuba, Revolutions: Cuban Revolution; Cuba: Cuba Since 1959.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Evora, José Antonio. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Madrid: Cátedra, 1996.

Schroeder, Paul A. Tomas Gutierrez Alea: The Dialectics of a Filmmaker. London: Routledge, 2002.

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Official page. Fnac Espana. Available from http://www.clubcultura.com.

                                       VÍctor Figueroa