The Cuban Game

The Cuban Game


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A documentary about pelota (baseball) in Cuba might not sound like the most inspiring choice of subject, but this insightful film by Manuel Martin Cuenca is about much more than just a ball park estimation.

Although The Cuban Game does, indeed, chart baseball on the island from its inception at the turn of the century, right through until the present day, it is concerned in equal measure with the implications which the game had for the country as a whole, particularly with regard to the political battles with the US which became enmeshed with the population's perception of its favourite sport.

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From small beginnings, as an evening diversion for factory workers, baseball began to gather pace until, by the Fifties, it was the country's number one sport. Following the revolution in 1959, however, President Kennedy, after ordering a thousand Havana cigars for himself, put an embargo in place on February 6, 1962, and the national sport became an act of solidarity.

Cuba had previously received all the gloves, balls and bats from America but, undaunted, the populace determined to play on despite the sanctions in what Castro described as 'the triumph of free baseball over enslaved baseball'.

This is at the heart of the film, as Cubans as old as 100 talk about their love of the game and how it came to symbolise their freedom and defiance in the face of the mighty Americans. Cuenca takes us on a voyage of discovery through the country's fight to be included in the Central American Games in 1966 to the tough choices some of them made to quit the country for a better life in the US leagues in the late Sixties and the consequences for those who remained behind.

The story itself is a fascinating one, but Cuenca has pulled the various political and sporting strands together masterfully. There is extensive archive footage of some of the earliest games and the elderly former players offer intriguing insights into what it came to mean to them in times of hardship.

The only slight disappointment isn't its content, but the manner in which it is subtitled. The text is white, overlaying the film, and can be tricky to read. Also the subtitler didn't feel the need to translate the titles of the various people represented, such as former sports ministers and game players, making it somewhat difficult to follow in places unless you have a knowledge of the language. There are occasional placards and newspaper cuttings, too, which would benefit from basic translation for an English-speaking audience.

These are minor gripes, however, about what is an ambitious and, on the whole, successful exploration of Cuba's relationship with the US and how it became so important to them, as one of the ex-players succinctly put it, 'to massacre them at the sport they invented'.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2002
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Baseball in Cuba - and its impact in a historical context.

Director: Manuel Martin Cuenca

Year: 2001

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Spain


EIFF 2002

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