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USA, 1979 (MIFF 1980, Programme 9)

Director: Richard Lester

Richard Lester made his name directing The Beatles in their two good fiSms, consolidated his reputation with a series of out and thrust comedies and, for several years now, has proved himself adept at handling action and adventure films with flourish and wit. His big numbers, like his Musketeer films, have made his recent official reputation but his smaller, less flamboyant pieces like Juggernaut, Robin and Marian, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days and The Ritz have been those that satisfied his most ardent admirers.

Cuba, his latest film, seems to have suffered some box-office miseries, but it could be set to join the last group. Set in Havana in 1959, the last days of the corrupt Batista regime, its mixture of adventure, love and politics features Sean Connery as Dapes, a retired British Army major brought in to advise on security by the crumbling regime. He becomes involved again with a woman with whom he had previously had an affair and during this time his disenchantment with his employers grows as the rebels increase their grip.

"Cuba declares its split personality by explicitly acknowledging the conventions of romantic fiction (The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, etc), in the midst of its historical recreation. Consistently, Lester and scenarist Charles Wood develop the situation as an ironic (not to say dialectical) fusion of the two, and end with one banishing the other (the Fidelistas enter Havana as hero and heroine go through an airport renunciation scene).

After the more languorous Robin and Marian and Butch and Sundance, Cuba marks a return to pointillist form for Lester — and, in collaboration again with Wood, one might expect a return also to the polemics of How I Won the War. But for all its piecemeal tactics, Cuba has a remarkably integrated, undidactic dramatic shape. The flight into Havana of Robert Dapes (Sean Connery), an ex-major in the British Army about to become security adviser to Batista's failing regime, and Gufman (Jack Weston), a down-at-heel American businessman looking for a quick kill, is intercut with various scenes on the ground. Alexandra Pulido (Brooke Adams) and her playboy husband Juan (Chris Sarandon) are entertained at the poolside of Batista's righthand man General Bello (Martin Balsam); Juan's father, patriarch of tobacco and rum industries to which Juan has proved himself an inattentive heir, presides over a baptism in the canefields; the brother, Julio (Danny De La Paz), of Juan's mistress, Therese, escapes from government troops and makes his way home, where he declares his next revolutionary act will be to kill his sister's "pimp". Almost before the credits are over, the film has introduced most of its characters, and laid the ground for a plot that will be developed as a series of formal parallels and symmetries . . ."

Extract from a review in Sight and Sound.

"I wanted to make a political film in which no-one spoke about politics and a love story where no-one spoke of love."

Richard Lester.

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