Strawberry and Chocolate

ICAIC/IMCINE/Telemadrid/S.G.A.E./Tabsaco Films Production
Miramax (in US)

It's so rare these days to see a film from Cuba that when a good one, such as Strawberry and Chocolate, comes along, it's a double cause for celebration. The new comedy-drama, co-directed by veteran master Tomas Gutierrez Alea (Memories of Underdevelopment, l968) and his younger collaborator Juan Carlos Tabio, offers a perceptive, delightful look at an unlikely friendship.

David (Vladimir Cruz), a handsome, if upright and uptight, sociology student, seems to be taking a narrow path toward a predictable future. One day, quite by chance, he meets a stranger while having an ice cream. The stranger is Diego (Jorge Perugorria), a warm and funny fellow, who has the gleam of a man who enjoys–and knows exactly what he wants from–life.

The two men are not only highly opinionated, they also differ in their sexual orientation: David is straight, Diego is gay. Diego, however, has his heart set on David, and on a wager with a pal that he can meet him, he invites David to his house. Almost despite himself, David accepts the invitation. David is at first suspicious of Diego's bizarre lifestyle, but he's sufficiently intrigued to give him a chance.

In the first hour or so, the film juxtaposes the divergent lifestyles of the two men. Diego is a voracious reader, citing Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Lorca. He revels in the arts, listens to Maria Callas, drinks Indian tea in French china. David's horizons are more limited–he embraces Castro' socialist ideology, still hoping it would have positive effects on Cuba.
Nominally, the narrative bears some resemblance to Hector Babenco's The Kiss of the Spider Woman, which also contrasted a straight and gay man. However, Strawberry and Chocolate is less schematic, less claustrophobic in its setting, less preachy–and much more emotionally satisfying.

Though the film's premise is familiar–given the chance, people of opposing political and sexual backgrounds can develop respect and even intimate friendship–the tale's particular context adds freshness and political alertness. The film exerts its charm in such an appealing, unforced way that you want to overlook the darker overtones, cling with all your heart to its hopeful message.

While most of the story takes place indoors, in intense interactions between Diego and David, there are secondary characters that add flavor and color to the drama. There's David's classmate, Miguel, a rigid ideologue who has no time for people like Diego. And there's Nancy, Diego's brash, ballsy beautiful neighbor, who wouldn't mind finding a man of her own. In a stroke of genius, Diego orchestrates a date between her and the still virginal David.

The impact of Strawberry and Chocolate is enormously enhanced by the delectable performances from two attractive actors, who are fearless in conveying the strengths–and weaknesses–of their characters. Radiating with vitality and energy, the film is full of small, comic touches of distinctly Latin flavor.

A winner of the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, this remarkable film embodies humanity and compassion. Set against the backdrop of Havana, and a Cuban society that continues to oppress homosexuals and other forms of “deviance,” Strawberry and Chocolate cuts through prejudice and homophobia to make a passionate plea for greater tolerance and understanding.
Oscar Alert

The film was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar, but lost to the Russian entry, “Burnt by the Sun.”