Cuban culture has reached these shores mostly in the form of music like the Buena Vista Social Club and baseball. 1993's Strawberry and Chocolate was a rare Cuban film to gain attention in the US. The same filmmakers (Juan Carlos Tabío and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, who passed away in 1996) also directed Guantanamera (1994), a well-made mix of comedy, drama, and social criticism.
The story involves Adolfo (Carlos Cruz), a lower-rank Communist party leader in Cuba, and his attempt to streamline the apparently bustling corpse transportation industry. In his overly complex Communist bureaucrat mind no one province should be stuck with the job of transporting corpses across the entire length of the island when people die away from their homes. His plan is for each province to provide an escort from provincial border to border.
This needlessly complex system is bound to cause problems and does as soon as Adolfo, his wife Georgina (Mirta Ibarra), and an elderly gentleman Candido (Raul Eguren), begin to escort the famous singer Yoyita (Conchita Brando) across Cuba. Adolfo, who treats his wife like crap, soon begins to grate on everyone's nerves, and when Georgina runs into a truck-driver named Mariano (Jorge Perugorria), a former student of hers, on the road, it becomes clear that she really wants to be with someone else. Throughout the film the two meet again and again at different checkpoints and gas stations and their mutual affection becomes clear.
This sort of plot could easily become too cute for its own good, but the cast and the dialog keep the film lively and original. Some twists in the road are actually unpredictable and the realistic, likeable characters draw the viewer in. The film is also helped by wry observations on the inadequacies of Cuban daily life, like the crowds of people waiting along the road waiting to hitchhike in the backs of trucks since there is no real public transportation to speak of.
The film strikes a perfect balance between social and political criticism and sweet love story. By the end Georgina and Mariano seem so perfect for each other that you can't help put aside your usual skepticism over romantic comedies and feel good.