Review: ‘Cuba Libre’

A melancholy caper film in which an offbeat central trio juggles regret, ambition and manipulation, "Cuba Libre" is a Berlin-Nice-Belgium autobahn movie that parlays its basic ingredients into a satisfying ride. Fests in general and women's fests in particular should look into this compact exploration of elastic honor among thieves. Pic's edgy, down-and-out humor is in immediate evidence when Tina (Catherine Flemming), a drugged-out woman of 30, is recognized by slightly older homeless Tom (Richy Muller) at a Berlin railroad station. Their reunion consists of Tina decking Tom with her purse. Jimmy (Wolfram Berger), an enigmatic wealthy stranger with a heart condition, rescues Tom and brings him to a luxury hotel. Tom empties Jimmy's wallet, but this doesn't dissuade Jimmy from hiring the homeless thief as his personal driver.

Turns out Tom and Tina had been lovers but he’d robbed her and left her in the lurch some five years prior. She’s now scraping the bottom of the barrel and refuses to forgive him. He’s wracked by remorse and would like to make a fresh start with Tina, but fate and hard feelings conspire to keep them apart. Meanwhile, there’s supposed to be money at the end of the drive with Jimmy.

Part road movie, part identity thriller, part tale of revenge, pic relies a bit too much in its narrative on keenly calibrated serendipity, but viewer curiosity about the outcome will outweigh most gripes. Thesps maintain a nice undercurrent of interpersonal suspense. Will Tina turn the tables on the man who deserted her or embrace him once again?

Other characters are close to nonexistent in pic, which unspools in cars, hotels, on sparse roads and windswept shorelines. Mellow, unobtrusive score suits the action, and technical contributions are fine.

Cuba Libre

German

Production

A ZDF/Schramm Film production. (International sales: Schramm Film, Berlin.) Directed, written by Christian Petzold.

Crew

Camera (color), Hans Fromm; editor, Bettina Bohler; music, Stefan Will; art direction, Kade Gruber; costume design, Anette Guther; sound, Heino Herrenbruck. Reviewed at Viennale, Vienna, Oct. 26, 1996. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Tom Richy Muller Tina Catherine Flemming Jimmy Wolfram Berger
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