Strawberry & Chocolate

Strawberry & Chocolate


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

A Cuban love story between two men sounds unexpected, even original, except this is not gay porn. What, you may ask, is it? What does the sophisticated, “artistic” Diego (Jorge Perugorria) see in the shy, politically naïve David (Vladimir Cruz), other than a great bod and childlike innocence? Well, who wants intellectual stimulus when shallow sex is more fun?

At the start it seems like a witty, camp seduction scenario, with Diego making all the running. David says he’s straight, but he’s also a virgin, which means he could go either way, which gives Diego hope. He’s a student from a poor family who feels grateful to the revolutionary government.

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“Look at me,” he says. “I study at the university. A peasant’s son.”

“Like Stalin,” Diego quips.

They are incompatible and yet their friendship grows into a love that has no name, no label, no stigma. With infinite subtlety, aided by a performance of genuine quality from Perugorria, the film moves on. The flirtatious beginnings evolve into a relationship of considerable depth, during which David’s simplistic communist beliefs are shaken by Diego’s cosmopolitan style – he reads John Donne, drinks Johnny Walker, likes nothing better than afternoon tea and listens to Maria Callas – which may be an affectation to protect him from constant homophobic threats. He is trying to set up an exhibition of religious effigies, gaudily painted plaster figures of Christ and other prophets, created by an ex-lover, which, by the very nature of their subject matter, is controversial, if not forbidden.

This is Cuba in the Nineties. To be different is dangerous. Diego knows that he sails close to the wind and might be arrested at any time. He trusts his friends, which may be a mistake, as he trusts his flamboyant, hysterical, emotionally fragile neighbour (Mirta Ibarra), who fancies David rotten, while, at the same time, planning his own exit strategy.

The film is beautifully written (Senel Paz) and perfectly acted. It feels like an adaptation from a play, as the action takes place almost entirely in Diego’s apartment, restricting its scope a little. It was the first Cuban film to get a commercial release in the US and was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category, 1994.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2009
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Love has a different hue in communist Cuba.
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Director: Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Juan Carlos Tabío

Writer: Senel Paz

Starring: Jorge Perugorria, Vladimir Cruz, Mirta Ibarra, Francisco Gattorno, Joel Angelino, Marilyn Solaya

Year: 1994

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Cuba, Mexico, Spain, US


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