Memories of Underdevelopment

In Michael Chanan’s book The Cuban Image there is a fairly complete structural analysis of Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s film Memories of Underdevelopment ; however examining the role of women in Sergio’s life indicates something about his political state of mind that is not really hinted at in the chapter by Chanan. Sergio, by the ease with which he is supported within Cuba, is a metaphor for Cuba itself. The women represent phases, eras etc. within the development of Cuba.

Laura is the first woman we see playing a significant role in Sergio’s life. She is his wife, yet has decided to leave Cuba without Sergio. We see her departure at the airport and notice that Sergio is nonplused by her leaving. Later Laura is related as the sum of many parts: her lipstick, her recorded voice, and her stockings. She is a "mosaic witch" and represents to Sergio/Cuba the last of the superficial Bourgeoisie that the decadent indolence of tourist trap Cuba had supported. He sees her politically as an oppressor and as a burden at the same time. To sum up his feeling for her and her class departing, it is "relief." Laura is further examined as a state of mind with the flashbacks that look at Pablo’s wife/girlfriend. Sergio sees Laura as the same kind of male accessory as Pablo’s repulsive female companion.

Noemi is introduced with a title. She is a maid who comes by Sergio’s apartment weekly. There are fantasy dream sequences where Sergio is able to fulfill the lust he feels for her amidst the imagined baptism she describes to him. it is hard to place how this symbolizes a political frame of mind for Sergio. At a wild guess I might think it had something to do with the way Christianity went under as the Socialist Castro government took over. At the least here Sergio is guilty of what he criticizes Cuban women for as the "look of wanting to be touched" that shows underdevelopment through lack of consistency.

Elena is also introduced with a title and embodies the "now" of the film. She, as a young girl, symbolizes the youth and newness of independent Cuba to Sergio. Sergio’s pick up line is "you have beautiful knees" which is strange given that there is not a clear shot of Elena’s knees - most camera attention focuses on her eyes ("window of the soul"). The "knees" comment prompts her to peek at her own knees and admire them as Sergio spies her from above. "Hey, my knees are pretty" is the same way that Sergio’s mind is thinking "Hey, my Cuba is independent."

The outcome of the Elena sequence is interrupted with a title, "Hanna", and a flashback sequence of fresh-out-of-school Sergio. She is representative to Sergio of the influx of the Eurocentric ideals he is obsessed with both culturally and politically. This European influx is critical within the understanding of Cuba’s genesis.

The film finishes with a drawn out conflict with Elena. Elena’s family drags Sergio into court for "ruining" her. He had tried to escape and ignore her but she has been stalking him. The court finds him "Not Guilty" despite his fears and his new political frame of mind comes to find the awkward newborn phase of independent Cuba has now matured. I read that he is now more at ease within Cuba and is expectant of further change politically as he walks to the sea. By far and away this my favorite T.G. Alea film, and I would even put it in my "top 10" films of all time.


Last Updated on 03/06/00
By JR Kerr
Send Comments to


B A C K to Third World Cinema I N D E X