Sog.: dall’omonimo romanzo di Edmundo Desnoes. Scen.: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Edmundo Desnoes. F.: Ramón F. Suárez. M.: Nelson Rodríguez. Scgf.: Julio Matilla. Mus.: Leo Brouwer. Int.: Sergio Corrieri (Sergio Carmona Mendoyo), Daisy Granados (Elena), Eslinda Núñez (Noemi), Omar Valdés (Pablo), René de la Cruz (fratello di Elena). Prod.: Miguel Mendoza per Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos. DCP.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The film begins. A dizzying sound of drumbeats invades the movie theatre. Pulsating bodies take the screen. Dozens, hundreds of people, mostly blacks and mestizos, are dancing. Everything is movement and ecstasy. All of a sudden, gunshots ring out. A man lies on the ground – a lifeless body. Surrounding him, the deafening music and the rhythm continue. The beat is frenzied. The camera travels from face to face in the crowd until it stops at a young black woman. The frame freezes on her trance-lit face.
Thus begins Memories of Underdevelopment, and watching it was like a shock to me. The film navigated between different states – fiction and documentary, past and present, Africa and Europe. The dialectic narrative took the form of a collage, crafted with an uncommon conceptual and cinematographic rigour. Scenes from newsreels, historical fragments and magazine headlines mixed and collided. In Memories of Underdevelopment, Alea proved that filmic precision and radical experimentation could go hand in hand. Nothing was random. Each image echoing in the following image, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Until then, having spent part of my childhood in Europe, I had a better knowledge of Italian neorealism and the French new wave than I did of the cinematic currents in Latin America. I admired Rossellini and Visconti and the early films of Godard and Truffaut – and with good reason. On taking the camera to the streets and showing the faces and lives of ordinary people, the neorealists and the directors of the nouvelle vague had fomented a true ethical and aesthetic revolution in films.
But Memories of Underdevelopment carried with it something more. A point of view that was vigorous, original and, more importantly, pertained directly to us, Latin Americans. It was like a reverse angle – one that seemed more resonant to me than that which was prevalent in other latitudes.
Walter Salles, in The Cinema of Latin America, edited by Alberto Elena and Marina Díaz López, Wallflower Press, New York 2004