Bitter Sugar | Chicago Reader

Bitter Sugar

In this good-looking black-and-white drama (1996) Gustavo (Rene Lavan), a young man in Havana, must reconcile his desire for economic betterment with his nationalistic feeling—two seemingly incompatible ideals represented by two women. His girlfriend challenges his plans for the future—she too wants to get out of the country but questions Gustavo's fantasy of studying abroad and returning to respect and high pay. Another woman, a street prostitute who repeatedly crosses Gustavo's path, seems to embody doomed idealism—a concept that's taken to an even more provocative extreme by Gustavo's activist brother, who makes a chilling sacrifice he's bound to regret. Ultimately the allegory here is a little much—Gustavo's final act may be consistent with the thematic goals of writers Orestes Matacena and director Leon Ichaso, but it doesn't emerge convincingly from the story. Otherwise the characterizations are persuasive, deftly suggesting urgent emotional and social issues with very little wasted motion.

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