Paradise Under the Stars, A

(Cuba/Spain)

Sundance Film Festival 2000 (World Cinema)–It's such a rarity to see a Cuban movie in American theaters that each Cuban product that crosses the border is a cause for celebration–that this comedy is both likable and commercial is a double cause for celebration.

Undoubtedly inspired by the Aussie hit “Strictly Ballroom,” though not as good or accomplished, Gerardo Chijona's “Paradise Under the Stars” is a romantic comedy set in a Havana nightclub where a dozen characters meet, separate and re-meet with their identities and family roles rapidly changing from scene to scene.

Picture may not have the appeal and political relevance of the last Cuban movie to hit American screens, “Strawberry and Chocolate,” but it may delight adventurous viewers, particularly in cities dominated by Latino populations.

It makes sense that writer-director Chijona, a Havana University graduate in English lit, began his career as a film critic, for his comedy draws on Hollywood screwball and romantic comedies that revolve around mistaken identities and entangled relationships. Chijona developed his screenplay, which was born out of a docu he made on the Tropicana Cabaret, at the Sundance Institute, which further accounts for the American influence on his work.

Sissy (Thais Valdes), a young, beautiful woman wants to be a dancer, just like her mother, at the Tropicana, Havana's hottest club, but her father Candido (Enrique Molina), a macho truck driver, forbids her. Along with his friend Promedio (Litico Rodriguez), Candido accidentally hits handsome biker Sergito (Vladimir Cruz), who sports a star shaped mole on his butt, similar to Candido's. Candido takes the young man home, much to Sissy's delight but to the dismay of Promedio, who suspects that Sergito is Candido's son and hence fears the implications of incest.

Meanwhile, Armando (Santiago Alfonso), Candido's old black rival and club's choreographer, intends to exact revenge on his nemesis by seducing Sissy. When she rejects him, Armando demotes her to the chorus line. Additional characters in a yarn, where the web of interactions get progressively more and more complicated, include: Mabel (Daysi Granados), Candido's old flame who warns Sissy of Armando's intentions; Sonia (Jacqueline Arenal), Sissy's competitor at the club who's manipulated by several characters; and Olivia (Amparo Munoz), Sissy's flamboyant mother who had abandoned her at childhood but suddenly returns from Spain.

True to form, meller includes seductions, pregnancies, false accusations, mysterious deaths and miracles, all of which get resolved in the final chapter when formerly arch-enemies are forced to realize that they're blood related. The fun of Paradise resides in its recreation of the colorful milieu of Tropicana, a famous milieu, while paying homage to Cuban music (recently celebrated in the popular docu Buena Vista Social Club) and also evoking a whimsical and unpredictable tale, in which all the characters trip and stumble in their search for happiness.

Chijona gives his romp fast pacing that helps digest some of the silly proceedings (also part of the genre). A large cast of enticing performers, particularly the central romantic duo, enact their roles with admirably straight faces. Music of the club's dance numbers is not particularly memorable, but ostentatious costumes and campy mood offer sufficient compensations, resulting in 90 minutes of passable entertainment.

Credits

A ICAIC and Wanda production, in association with Ibsermedia and Spanish Television. Produced by Camilo Vives, Jose Maria Morales. Executive producers, Evelio Delgado, Puy Oria. Directed by Gerardo Chijona. Screenplay, Chijona, Luis Aguero, Senal Paz. Camera (color), Raul Perez Ureta; editor, Rori Sainz De Rozas; music, Jose Maria Vitier; production design, Lorenzo Urbiztondo; art direction, Erick Grass; sound (Dolby), Carlos Faruolo, Carlos Fernandez.

Running time: 90 min.

Sissy……….Thais Valdes
Sergito…….Vladimir Cruz
Olivia………Amparo Munoz
Candido……Enrique Molina
Mabel……..Daysi Granados
Armando….Santiago Alfonso
Sonia…..Jacqueline Arenal
Promedio…Litico Rodriguez
Josefa….Alicia Bustamante