A Restored "Memories of Underdevelopment" Returns to the Screen

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (screenshot from Youtube).

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, December 10, 2018 — Memories of Underdevelopment, the iconic film by Cuban director Tomás “Titón” Gutiérrez Alea (1928-1996), returned to the Havana screen on Sunday, fifty years after its premiere, in a restored version released by an American film company, The Criterion Collection.

Memories of Underdevelopment is based on the novel of the same name by Cuban writer Edmundo Desnoes, with a screenplay by the director. It premiered in Havana on August 19, 1968 and, in a recent survey, was named the best Latin American film of the twentieth century.

The Spanish website Notcine conducted the survey, which polled film industry professionals, critics, journalists, festival organizers and cinema fans from around the world.

A The New York Times guidebook also listed it among the 1,000 best films of all time.

The restored film is being shown as part of the 40th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, which runs until December 16 and which is dedicated to Titón.

During a panel discussion on Sunday Valeria Nuttela, a representative from The Criterion Collection, noted that Gutiérrez Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment is the first Cuban film to be included in the company’s collection, which features important American and international film titles.

Nuttela notes that every Criterion restoration takes into account a film’s history. It releases films in Blu-ray and DVD formats with additional material to help viewers better understand the context in which a film was made.

The newly restored version was submitted to individuals involved in its production and to Cuban film organizations such as the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).

Among recent tributes to Titón are screenings of his films and a new postage stamp marking what would have been his ninetieth birthday. Also planned are the premiere of a documentary by his widow, the actress Mirtha Ibarra, and the release of his collected correspondence under the title Tomás Gutiérrez Alea: Retracing My Footsteps.

Memories of Underdevelopment is a personal story that would have seemed inconsequential were it not set in the heady days immediately following the Cuban Revolution, when all its contradictions were still red-hot.

Starring the late Sergio Corrieri, with Daisy Granados and Eslinda Núñez, it opens with a man staring down at the street below from his highrise apartment. The ninety-seven-minute film is structured around an internal monologue voiced by the main character, a middle-class intellectual who has decided to remain on the island rather than follow his entire family into exile in the United States.

Though now considered a masterpiece and a classic of Cuban cinema, critics note that the film was ahead of its time and generated controversy upon its release. Titón sought to challenge viewers and encourage them to find answers to the issues the film raised.

Gutiérrez Alea’s filmography also includes The Twelve Chairs (1962), Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), The Last Supper (1976), The Survivors (1979), Strawberry and Chocolate (1993) — the only Cuban film ever nominated for an Oscar”— and Guantanamera (1995), his final film.


Site manager’s note: The writer Edmond Desnoes wrote a sequel to his novel and subsequently cooperated with Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula on a second film, Memorias del Desarrollo, which has been given the English title “Memories of Overdevelopment.”

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