The Good: Acting, Originality
The Bad: Predictable plot, Characters are indistinct.
The Basics: Exceptional on its first viewing, the Cuban film Strawberry And Chocolate becomes more and more common upon each viewing.
I've seen Strawberry And Chocolate three times now, twice on big screens, once at home on video. This film is one of those interesting experiences that degrades upon repetition. It's not that Strawberry And Chocolate isn't a good movie, it's that the more you see it, the more it becomes apparent that that's all it is.
Strawberry and Chocolate is a Cuban film and it's fairly impressive that the film was both made and released considering its strong anti-Castro bent. The film is a romantic comedy about a gay Cuban artist and the young man he meets who is very much a part of the "Communist" (any self-respecting Red finds calling Cuba "Communist" laughable) party and thus the Regime. In the process, the younger man is chasing after the artist's neighbor, who is pretty much the film's gratuitous buxom chick.
Diego is working in Havana as an artist. There, he meets, David, a student who is a very much a part of Castro's regime. They meet, fail to hit it off, and when having ice cream, Diego orders strawberry, David goes for the more masculine chocolate. While Diego does his best to subtly hit on David, one of David's classmates sees the friendship as an opportunity to suss out a gay for the Party. As David spies for Miguel, while trying to get Nancy, the friendship opens him up to possibilities he had not considered before.
The first time I saw the film, I was impressed: it's funny, it's different and it was subtitled so I got a lot of reading done. :) In all seriousness, after the first viewing, I recommended it to all of my friends and was dismayed that because of the sexual scenes, my Spanish class in high school couldn't go and see it.
Upon further viewings, especially as the language became less and less of a problem, it struck me how unoriginal the film is. Outside the fact that the unfulfilled romantic relationship is potentially between two men, the story is pretty much your typical romantic comedy. Two people meet, encounter adversity, friendship, go through a conflict and come out stronger at the end. While parts of that don't add up here, that's essentially what Strawberry and Chocolate does.
Moreover, the characters are flat. The artist is pretty much the universal archetype of the gay artist, the young man is pretty much the cliche of the Party youth and the bimbo is, well, the bimbo. They all end up having remarkably little depth or they end up being perceivable no deeper than the part they represent. That is, the artist never truly does anything other than be the gay artist. All the characters do here is live up to our mediocre expectations of them.
What saves the film is the dialogue and the "look." The dialogue, especially on the first two viewings, is witty and original. But more than that, the look of the film is nice. The casting was done so everyone looks like real people. While the artist is vaguely attractive, the Party boy isn't terribly good looking and both are definitely Hollywood standards and that in itself is very refreshing to see!
This film is a definite one to see. Watch it once, enjoy it (because there's much to enjoy) and then file it under good memories; repeated viewings will only ruin that.
For other atypical relationship movies, please check out my reviews of:
The Spitfire Grill
For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.