The Sugar Curtain

The Sugar Curtain

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With The Sugar Curtain, documentarian Camila Guzmán Urzúa cinematically strives to reconcile herself with her memories, an endeavor motivated by her still vibrantly warm feelings for the Havana of her 1980s childhood and the harsh, depressing reality of its present state. Guzmán Urzúa’s handheld camerawork is coarse by design, ably contributing to the film’s highly intimate nature. A shot of the director’s hand closing a classroom door, her shadow clearly visible on its façade, is less a technical gaffe than a deliberate attempt to imprint herself on her nonfiction portrait, in which she travels through Cuba remembering her home as a paradise where monetary concerns were nil, comfort and camaraderie were omnipresent, and everyone of her age group believed in their vital function building a glorious future. Nonetheless, however joyful her nostalgic remembrances are, Guzmán Urzúa’s doc is steeped in sorrow, and not simply for her native land’s deterioration into economic and social hardship (dubbed the Special Period) following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Throughout The Sugar Curtain, the loss of youthful idealism is married to, and amplified by, the more troubling fact that the socialist nirvana which Guzmán Urzúa and her comrades idealized didn’t really exist at all; instead, it had been merely a shakily constructed, unsustainable illusion propped up by the USSR. Hers is a conflict wrought from realizing the fallacy on which her prior bliss and formative values and convictions were built, and one that’s mirrored by the paths taken by her comrades, a few of whom stayed behind (and reminisce with a mixture of pride and sadness), while many others fled for happier shores. Although faithful to her experiences, Guzmán Urzúa’s decision to only fleetingly address the era’s governmental persecution of civilians strips her film of the context that would have complemented, for example, one interviewee’s discussion of the rigid conformity demanded by schools. Still, in its poignant depiction of a Cuban generation convinced that their roles as creators of a brighter tomorrow can only be fulfilled elsewhere, the director’s personal investigation into her past forcefully conveys a sense of national betrayal.

Distributor
First Run/Icarus Films
Runtime
80 min
Rating
NR
Year
2005
Director
Camila Guzmán Urzúa
Screenwriter
Camila Guzmán Urzúa