Fresa y Chocolate
FRESA Y CHOCOLATE
(Strawberry and Chocolate)
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio
Production: El Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos, with the support of Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografic, TeleMadrid, La Sociedad General de Autores y Editores de España, and Tabasco Films; color, 35 mm; running time: 110 minutes. Released in the United States in 1994 by Miramax Films; Spanish with English subtitles.
Producer: Georgina Balzaretti (executive), Frank Cabrera (executive), Camilo Vives (executive), Nacho Cobo (associate), Juan Muñoz (associate); screenplay: Senel Paz (based on the story, The Wolf, the Woods and the New Man) photography: Mario García Joya; editor: Miriam Talavera, Rolando Martínez, Osvaldo Donatién; production manager: Miguel Mendoza; sound editor: Germinal Hernandez; makeup: Graciela Grossas, María Elena del Toro; music: José; María Vitier; production designer: Fernando O'Reilly; costumes: Miriam Dueñas.
Cast: Jorge Perugorria (Diego); Vladimir Cruz (David); Jorge Angelino (Germán); Francisco Gattorno (Miguel); Mirta Ibarra (Nancy); Marilyn Solaya (Vivian); Antonio Carmona (Artist); Diana Iris del Puerto (Neighbor); Andrés Cortina (Santeria Priest); Ricardo Ávila (Taxi Driver); María Elena del Toro (Passenger); Zolanda Oña (Passenger).
Awards: ARCI-NOVA Award, Audience Award, Best Actor (Jorge Perugorría), Best Actress (Luisina Brando), Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Mirta Ibarra), FIPRESCI Award, Grand Coral First Prize, and OCIC Award, Havana Film Festival, 1993; Special Jury Prize, Silver Bear Award, and Teddy Award for Best Feature Film, Berlin International Film Festival, 1994; Golden Kikito for Best Latin Film, Gramado Latin Film Festival, 1994; Goya Award for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film, 1995; Special Jury Award, Sundance Film Festival, 1995.
Burton, Julianne, editor, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers, Austin, Texas, 1986.
Pick, Zuzana M., The New Latin American Cinema: A ContinentalProject, Austin, Texas, 1993.
Cook, David. A., A History of Narrative Film, 3rd Ed. New York, 1996.
Channan, Michael. "New Cinemas in Latin America" and "Tomás Gutierrez Alea," in The Oxford History of World Cinema: TheDefinitive History of Cinema Worldwide, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Oxford, 1997.
Burton, Julianne, "Film and Revolution in Cuba: The First Twenty-Five Years," in Jump Cut: Hollywood, Politics and Counter-Cinema, edited by Peter Steven, New York, 1985.
Alea, Tomás Gutierrez, "I Wasn't Always a Filmmaker," in Cineaste (Berkeley), vol. 14, no. 1, 1985.
Smith, Paul, Teresa Toledo, and Philip Kemp, "The Language of Strawberry/Intolerance/Fresa y Chocolate," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 4, no. 12, December 1994.
Wise, Michael, "In Totalitarian Cuba, Ice Cream and Understanding," in New York Times, 22 January 1995.
Ebert, Roger, "'Strawberry' Defies Notions of Cuba's Politics and Passions," in Chicago Sun-Times, 10 February 1995.
Ebert, Roger, "Cuban Filmmaker Counts His Blessing; 'Strawberry' Harvest Tastes Better Than Making a Mint," in Chicago Sun-Times, 10 February 1995.
West, Dennis, "Strawberry and Chocolate, Ice Cream and Tolerance: Interviews with Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio," in Cineaste (Berkeley), Winter-Spring 1995.
Marsolais, Gilles, "Un humour décapant: coup d'oeil sur quelques films de Tomás Gutiérrez Alea," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 77, Summer 1995.
Hess, John, "Melodrama, Sex, and the Cuban Revolution," in JumpCut (Berkeley), no. 41, May 1997.
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The film Fresa y Chocolate opened in Cuba in the year 1993 and within the space of a few months became one of the biggest box-office successes for Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, one of Latin America's celebrated and Cuba's most revered filmmakers. The story is set in 1979, a year before the upheaval of the Mariel boatlift. We meet Diego, a flamboyant, gay man who spots the beautiful young David at an ice cream shop and sets out to woo him. "I knew he was a homosexual," Diego later reveals to his roommate Miguel, "there was chocolate and he chose strawberry."
Diego manages to lure the supremely heterosexual and devoutly Marxist David to his apartment with the promise of books, music, and other accouterments not readily available in Cuba. Diego is immediately smitten by David, who "has a face of an angel." But David's only reason for befriending the non-conformist Diego is to do his duty for the Party by exposing him as a counter-revolutionary, a charge that could bring a penalty of a decade or more in prison. Here is where the real fun begins, for with their subsequent visits the issues become cloudy. David is fascinated by the quirky, educated, and cultured Diego. Moreover, there is more to Diego than meets the eye. At one point, Diego toasts their new friendship with contraband liquor from America, dubbing it "the enemy's whiskey." Is Diego a counter-revolutionary or isn't he?
Some have criticized the inclusion of obvious gay clichés: Diego's apartment is cluttered with a dazzling array of eclectic antiques, he serves Indian tea on exquisite china, he revels in opera, and struts his stuff in a black tank top and blue Japanese kimono. Yet this is not a "gay" film. There is sexual tension, but no sex. Notes film critic Robert Ebert, the film is not "about the seduction of a body, but about the seduction of a mind." Nor is the film to be dismissed as simply a light comedy about manners and morality. There are many issues cleanly woven into this unique tapestry.
Probably most striking to non-Cuban viewers is the film's serious and sensitive treatment of gay characters in a Cuban film set during a period in the country's history when anti-gay sentiment and discrimination ran especially high. For Alea however, it is more a film about tolerance than it is a call for gay rights. "The gay subtheme," notes Alea in Cineaste, "is merely a convenient illustration. . . ." Fresa y Chocolate examines freedom of expression, surveillance, revolutionary watchfulness, the black market, and the flaws of revolutionary Cuban society.
This may seem radical, arising as it does from the camera of one of Cuba's most devoted revolutionaries. But not so if one is familiar with the firebrand tone of Alea's work. The Cuban director has never shied away from the contradictions in his country's policies. His submerged criticism of the exigencies of life in communist Cuba has resonated throughout his films. "It's seen as a communist hell or a communist paradise," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. In one scene the two men escape to Diego's rooftop to take in the beauty of their city. A wide shot pans a beautiful dock with clear waters, shore birds, and small sea vessels. Diego warns David to enjoy it now "before it collapses." Clearly, Diego loves Cuba but is tortured by the fact that its beauty is crumbling before his own eyes.
Fresa y Chocolate is a splendid piece of filmmaking by one of Latin America's most celebrated film artists. Alea made his mark in filmmaking with the production of El mégano in 1955. This documentary explored the exploitation of peasant labor in the charcoal swamps and caused Alea to be arrested by the secret police of the Batista regime. It was during this turbulent period in postwar film history that Latin American countries began to loose the stranglehold of the Hollywood machine to allow the voices of native film artists to be heard. A number of film movements emerged, including "Cinema Novo," when young Latin filmmakers took on the tenants of Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave to explore issues of colonization, slavery, economic limitation, misery, and protest, and in the process created a new Latin American cinema. It was the 1964 dark comedy Muerta de un burócrata (Death of a Bureaucrat) that helped established Alea as an international film artist.
Fresa y Chocolate is richly photographed and filled with charming portrayals and very good acting. And it makes for delightful comedy. David is a University student studying political science but is quite naive and unsophisticated. During one of many heated discussions with Diego, David confuses Truman Capote with Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bomb. He tells Diego that being gay is "in the glands." Then there is Nancy, Diego's middle-aged and sexually appealing neighbor, a part-time hooker with mental baggage who supports herself by selling contraband pantyhose and cosmetics and who becomes intensely physically drawn to David—especially when she finds out he is still a virgin.
Alea, who was 69 years old at the time of the shooting of Fresa Y Chocolate, became ill and called upon his long-time colleague, filmmaker Juan Carlos Tabio, to complete the film. In 1996, after the release of his final film, Guantanamera, Alea died of cancer.
—Pamala S. Deane