A motley crew of characters struggling to overcome personal tragedies is used as a pretext for a broad and stripped of glamour portrait of Cuba in Humberto Solas' Barrio Cuba (2005). While the script occasionally suffers from banal inconsistencies pic's fine lensed vistas from the backstreets of La Havana more than make up for it. Winner of the Audience Award at the Huevla Latin American Film Festival.
Magalis (Luisa Maria Jimenez), a beautiful nurse with a tumultuous love life, has become Ignacio's (Mario Limonta), a lonely and often inebriated aging worker, obsession. He is convinced that sooner or later Magalis will respond to his invitations even though she has made her preference for younger men clear.
El Chino (Jorge Perugorria) is an overworked truck driver who barely spends time at home. His wife
(Isabel Santos) has just found out that she is pregnant - and now she demands that El Chino spends more time with her.
Maria (Ana Dominguez) is coming home to La Havana to give birth and begin a family with Santo (Rafael Lahera). But when tragedy strikes Santo literally loses his mind. He abandons everyone and decides to forget his previous life. Even his newly-born son.
With a strong socio-political subtext and a cast committed to excellence Barrio Cuba is one of the few films I have seen lately where realism is achieved despite a number of obvious flaws. Poverty, love, and plenty of drama are mixed in a conventional but appealing fashion which some may rightfully compare to the melodramatic tone of popular soap operas. What separates Barrio Cuba, however, is the unedited sense of desperation oozing from practically every single frame Solas has captured with his camera. La Havana and those who inhabit it are seen, felt, and heard as if one was there, breathing the same air, walking the same streets.
Each of the individual stories eventually becomes part of a clichéd finale where I assume the positive message Solas delivers was expected. Given the tremendous amount of misery the main protagonists endure the ending certainly feels underdeveloped and out of synch with the rest of the film. The main characters' transformation however is remarkably poignant and without a doubt scripted with much more substance than the shaky finale mentioned earlier.
Technically Barrio Cuba is a solid and well-executed film. Cinematographer Carlos Rafael Solís allows the audience to experience a side of La Havana even the most adventurous of tourists are unlikely to ever witness. Indeed, the look of a city on the verge of a massive collapse is astonishing.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs Barrio Cuba arrives in a surpassingly fresh, good-looking print. Contrast is quite well-handled, detail is good, and so is the delicate color-scheme. Edge-enhancement occasionally becomes an issue but overall it tends to remain tolerable. This being said, I had a rather difficult time determining the nature of this transfer. I noticed some very mild "combing" but it was only occasionally present, not as consistent as I have seen elsewhere. In fact, I had to pay very close attention to notice its presence. So, I am fairly satisfied with the treatment this film has received and would not hesitate to recommend it to those who wish to explore and see what recent Cuban cinema has to offer.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Spanish DD track and optional yellow English subtitles the audio presentation is solid. The dialog is very easy to follow and the marvelous music score comes off the speakers without any issues to report. It could have been great if there was a 5.1 track available but I suppose one cannot be truly as demanding here as one is with non-Cuban cinema. Let's just assume that the print had its fare share of limitations and the audio treatment is a byproduct them.
Aside from a few trailers for other R1 releases there is nothing else to be found here.
I truly enjoyed Barrio Cuba, despite of the occasional clichés it uses to link its three stories. I felt as if I had been at a place I would never have the opportunity to visit, the feeling was almost surreal. In addition, the strong performances by the Cuban cast made this film that much more enjoyable. Highly Recommended.