An astute blend of sociopolitical metaphor and comic odyssey that takes nearly an hour to sweeten up, Humberto Solas’ “Honey for Oshun” begins as a mournful drama but segues nicely into a Cuban road movie with humorous overtones before climaxing with a burst of familial melodrama. Though auds may fidget at that first slow pour, payoff packs enough punch to warrant wait, with glimpse into today’s Cuba a major selling point.
With much trepidation and but a single contact, Latin American literature professor Roberto Delgado (Jorge Perugorria) flies from Miami to Havana in search of the mother, Carmen, who stayed behind when his father spirited him away some 32 years ago. Once located, cousin Pilar (Isabel Santos) insists that Roberto’s dad in fact kidnapped him and that his mother was consumed with grief to the point of institutionalization, disappearing upon her release.
With the help of some amateur sleuthing, a bit of religious prognostication and the eager aid of cynical, cabby Antonio (Mario Limonta), trio heads into the Cuban heartland in search of Carmen. Rather than a mournful trek, the journey becomes one of bleakly funny endurance.
Populace’s resiliency, optimism and sheer determination in the face of abject poverty is obvious, yet woven with unforced skill into fabric of story. Perugorria, who co-starred in landmark Cuban pic “Strawberry and Chocolate,” brings a fine depth to Roberto; his anguished “I’m nothing!” speech to a crowd of puzzled townspeople is a triumph of emotional complexity.
Both Santos and Limonta benefit from sharply drawn roles that illustrate the hard choices made by many modern Cubans.
Tech credits rep an interesting mix of the old and new. the first digital feature made in Cuba, per Solas, pic takes a traditional narrative approach that finds digital video operators clearly more interested in proper framing and shot sequencing than pressing each and every strange button on the camera.
Consistent with Roberto’s churning emotions, the busy score lays it on thick at key emotional moments. Title comes from river-affiliated African religious saint Oshun and the nectar she utilizes to soothe misunderstandings.