If You Only Understood | Chicago Reader

If You Only Understood

Unable to get backing for a big-time movie musical, Cuban filmmaker Rolando Diaz instead shot this 1999 video chronicling his search for a dark-skinned young woman to play the lead. He and his crew roamed the streets of Havana, auditioning likely candidates, and the ten women Diaz interviews speak frankly about their dreams and heartbreaks, touching on emigration, abandonment, and racism. Their stories are mawkish but fascinating, told against the backdrop of a hopeless and dilapidated city, and as the process continues they begin to shape Diaz's proposed musical in a kind of Pirandellian collaboration. The uplifting finale—an impromptu production number staged in an alley—sums up the documentary's soul-searching, irreverence, and faith in the redemptive power of escapism.

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