The Sugar Curtain

2007, Movie, NR, 90 mins

Review

SUGAR CURTAIN, THE | EL TALON DE AZUCAR
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Chilean-born, Cuban-raised, French-based filmmaker Camila Guzman Urzua's melancholy documentary meditation on her childhood in the "Golden Age" of Che Guevara's revolution.

"The country of my childhood has disappeared," says Urzua as she prowls the run-down streets, schools, apartment blocks and Pioneer Camps where she and her classmates grew up in a relative comfort and the secure knowledge that they were helping to build a better, brighter future for their country. Urzua's parents fled Chile after a military coup overthrew President Salvador Allende in 1973. Fidel Castro's government welcomed them in Cuba, giving the family citizenship and an apartment in Havana. There were jobs for Urzua's parents and educational opportunities for their two daughters. Urzua and her few remaining friends in Cuba remember remarkably happy childhoods, steeped in the feeling that they were part of something larger than themselves, a social and cultural movement that promised equality and valued responsible citizenry over amassing wealth. Urzua became disillusioned in high school and took the first opportunity to move to Spain, observing from afar the "Special Period" — the harsh years that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Without its support, Cuba's economy crumbled and the government support systems that made the relative comfort of Urzua's formative years were rapidly disassembled. All that remained, she observes, were slogans and rituals exhorting a new generation to do their part for Cuba without instilling in them a sustaining sense of possibility. A handful of her school friends remain, but the film ends with a bittersweet rundown of those who've scattered to Argentina, Canada, the U.S., Spain, France, Puerto Rico and even China in search of opportunity beyond a hardscrabble struggle in the shadow of sadly diminished expectations.

Urzua's unsentimental story of shattered idealism is specific to Cuba, but anyone whose path to adulthood was paved with disillusionment — whether they were betrayed by faith, family or institutions — will understand her melancholy nostalgia. Urzua knows full well that the revolution failed to deliver on its promises, but she appreciates the strength and satisfaction her generation derived from believing in them. (In Spanish, with subtitles) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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