Film Review: Santa & Andrés

Low-key treatment of a relationship between a gay man and a Communist woman will reward the patient.
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An almost-love story set in 1983 Cuba, Santa & Andrés focuses on the relationship that hesitatingly develops between Andrés (Eduardo Martinez), a gay anti-Communist writer under house arrest, and Santa (Lola Amores), a forbidding loyalist for Castro, who keeps watch over him over a period of three days.

This very low-key and unassuming yet affecting two-hander of a film by Carlos Lechuga ran into censorship problems last year when it was pulled from the 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, after the state-run film institute, ICAIC, objected to the screenplay which depicts Cuban Communists in a decidedly unflattering, violent light. Obviously suffering from some kind of aesthetic schizophrenia, ICAIC had ironically bestowed an award on the film’s script two years ago.

Beautifully photographed in some breathtakingly lovely Cuban locales, with a flavorful, eclectic music score, the unlikely friendship unfolds a tad lackadaisically, but the two leads are very likeable, especially the equine-looking Amores, who seems to relish playing the initially ultra-dour and dismissively judgmental proud Red, just as Garbo did in Lubitsch’s 1939 film Ninotchka. Martinez is also excellent, seemingly completely compliant, but secretly writing a manifesto of the subversive kind that led to his arrest in the first place. The weary resignation with which he moves about the basic shack to which he has been exiled says volumes about the way gays have been mistreated in Cuba and denied rights, for generations. Andrés has a fetching boyfriend (Cesar Domínguez), who happens to be mute, but that doesn’t excuse his being a user and even beating up Andrés. But Santa proves a great help during his convalescence, and the seeds of amity between two stubborn, ideologically opposite-minded characters are sown.

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