With its toe-tapping music and colorful characters, this Cuban road movie has plenty of charm but surprisingly little energy. The slender plotline is a peg on which to hang a few jokes about contemporary Cuba, but the jokes won’t travel as well or as far as the characters in the film. The result will be a disappointment for admirers of the previous effort from the Alea-Tabio team, “Strawberry and Chocolate.”
Both veteran Tomas Gutierrez Alea and his partner Juan Carlos Tabio have made fine comedies in the past, with Alea’s hilarious “Death of a Bureaucrat” (1966) an especially memorable piece of slapstick. A Cuban bureaucrat is mocked in this new film, too, but the zip has gone out of the helmers’ comic timing on this occasion.
Story’s trigger is a Cuban law which states that a citizen must be buried in the area where he or she lives. Aunt Yoyita has traveled from the other side of the island to visit Guantanamera, the town where she grew up and which she left 50 years earlier. She meets her niece, Georgina, a former teacher who’s married to Adolfo, a rigid functionary. She also has a reunion with her teenage sweetheart, Candido, and is so pleased that he still loves her that she promptly expires.
Once they’ve recovered from the shock of the old lady’s sudden death, Georgina, Adolfo and Candido set off in a two-car funeral cortege to transport her corpse back home. Meanwhile, a happy-go-lucky truck driver, Mariano, is driving the same route, At several points along the road, the funeral party and the truck driver cross paths, and Mariano recognizes Georgina as a woman he’d loved when he was a youth. He starts to pursue her, despite the presence of her increasingly frustrated husband.
It’s a reasonable premise for a road comedy, with lots of incidents along the way to slow the progress of the charcters, including a sexy railway crossing guard with the hots for mariano who simply stops all highway traffic to spend time with him. There are staple jokes, like the predictable mix-up of coffins, and of course growing romance between Mariano and Georgina.
But many of the gags dealing with specific Cuban matters fail to register, and the pacing is surprisingly slow for a film that should have been as frenetic as the grand old song that gives it its name.
Mirtha Ibarra, who was appealing in “Strawberry and Chocolate,” is charming as Georgina, the forty-something woman who grasps at a second chance for romance , while Jorge Perugorria and Carlos Cruz adequately portray the men in her life. Minor characters, especially Suset Perez Malberti as the foxy crossing guard, lend color to the proceedings.
The story is basically fluff, and the pic feels about 20 minutes too long, but there’s a toe-tapping finale that winds things up on a bright note.