Patria o Muerte: 7 Essential Cuba-Set Films


This article by Keith Rice appeared in See link to the original article below.

With a move meant to alleviate fifty-four years of tension, President Obama eased a number of travel and trade restrictions with the island nation of Cuba. The announcement is the first in what may be a series of moves to thaw the longtime icy relations with our Caribbean neighbor. So what more perfect time to take a look at some great films set in Cuba?

“Godfather: Part II” (1974)
A fair portion of Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling, generation-spanning epic was set in Cuba during the close of the Cuban Revolution. In an effort to diversify the Corleone family’s holdings, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino in one of his finest performances to date) travels to Havana, but soon flees as the violent fall of the Batista regime becomes more apparent. Setting the crumbling Corleone Empire against the failing Cuban government is one of the film’s great allegorical moments. For obvious reasons, the Cuba scenes were not filmed on location but in the Dominican Republic.

“Before Night Falls” (2000)
Born into the poverty of pre-Castro Cuba and sentenced to imprisonment for both his writing and sexuality in the early years of Fidel Castro’s government, the journey of poet Reinaldo Arenas is a poignant and powerful rebuke of Cuba’s oppressive communist regime. Javier Bardem earned an Oscar nomination for his nuanced portrayal of Arenas, who fled to the U.S. during 1980’s Mariel boatlift. The film was shot primarily in Mexico and the United States. “Before Night Falls” was based on the autobiography of the same name.

“Scarface” (1983)
Speaking of the Mariel boatlift, 1983’s “Scarface” was a re-imagining of the 1932 gangster classic of the same name replacing the titular Chicago Mafioso with savage Cuban immigrant Tony Montana. With his over-the-top, scenery-chewing antics and comically exaggerated accent, Al Pacino did little to improve the image of Cubans for the majority of Americans. However, taken on its own merits, “Scarface” is an entertaining, coke-fueled shoot-em-up that turned a fun-house lens on the concept of the American Dream and Reagan Era capitalism. The film was shot primarily in Florida and California.

“Amistad” (1997)
Based on the novel Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy, “Amistad” follows the uprising of a group of slaves aboard a Spanish slave ship and features strong performances from Matthew McConaughey, Djimon Hounsou, and Anthony Hopkins. Beginning in a slave market in Havana, the slaves are eventually re-captured and brought to trial in the United States in a case that reached the Supreme Court and proved a landmark moment for the abolitionist movement. “Amistad” was filmed primarily in the Northeastern United States.

“Che: Parts One and Two” (2008)
Steven Soderbergh’s treatment of the life of infamous Marxist Revolutionary Che Guevara is anchored by a stunning – and oft-overlooked performance – by Benicio del Toro. Shot in a non-linear, documentary style, the films traces the rise and eventual demise of Guevara first as a revolutionary in Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement and later as guerilla leader in Bolivia. The films make no attempt to aggrandize Guevara and instead present an unvarnished view of a passionate and perhaps misguided revolutionary. “Che: Parts One and Two” are based largely on the writings of Che Guevara including a daily journal he kept during his time in Bolivia. The films were shot primarily in Spain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico

“Guys and Dolls” (1955)
A classic based on the Tony Award-winning musical that was based on the short stories “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Browne” and “Blood Pressure” by Damon Runyon, “Guys and Dolls” gave a view of the more idyllic, pre-revolution image of Cuba as an island paradise. Featuring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, “Guys and Dolls” was shot during the heyday of the classic Hollywood musical and represents a picturesque, fun-in-the-sun Cuba that may have been little more than an American fantasy. “Guys and Dolls” was shot entirely on a backlot in Hollywood, California.

“The Old Man and the Sea” (1958)
No list of films set in Cuba would be complete without some mention of Ernest Hemingway. Written during his time living in Cuba, The Old Man and the Sea is a classic American novel and the epitome of Hemingway’s sparse, harsh prose style. The 1958 adaptation starring Spencer Tracy is the tale of elderly fisherman Santiago and his struggle to capture an enormous marlin and return to shore. Generally considered one of Hemingway’s finest works, The Old Man and the Sea explores themes of masculinity and sacrifice and was perhaps a window into the author’s inner struggles. The film is arguably one of the truest literary adaptations ever put to film. “The Old Man and The Sea” was filmed primarily on location in Cuba.

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