Salsa queen Celia Cruz was never fully able to reconcile the Cuba of her memories with the Cuba of the present, though it helped to be intimate with La Guarachera de Cuba’s music to pick up on the melancholy that underscored her otherwise jubilated cries of “¡Azúcar!” Unlike Cruz, Chilean filmmaker Camila Guzmán Urzúa was able to return to Cuba for her chance at self-reckoning, finding old friends whose suffering during the post-Soviet “special period” forces her to rethink her childhood and reflect on a political machine’s death throes. A man reminisces about the lives of his parents—torn apart by their divergent ideologies, then by the lottery that allows Cubans to emigrate to the States; a woman contemplates the farce of breakfasts without milk and croquettas without bread crumbs. In the face of such agony, Guzmán Urzúa wonders if her once happy regard for Che and perestroika was nothing but the manifestation of a government’s attempt to sustain the legitimacy of its revolution. Both love story and memory of underdevelopment, The Sugar Curtain illuminates, with great sobriety and reverence, the paradox of a nation as steeped in tradition as it is in hypocrisy. Like Cruz, Guzmán Urzúa understands that to be Cuban is to be conflicted.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 17, 2007