American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Cuba may languish under a bankrupt and dour political system, but it is after all a Caribbean island--filled with life, color and invention. "Guantanamera'' celebrates Cuban paradoxes in a cheeky little comedy about two romances that endure through the years.
This is the last film by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, the sly satirist who insisted he was a loyal Cuban even while making comedies indicating there was a great deal in his native land that he found overripe for improvement. He died while making it; the direction was taken over by his collaborator, the writer Juan Carlos Tabio, and it stars his widow, Mirtha Ibarra.
The film's target is mindless, pig-headed bureaucracy. The weapons it brings to bear against it are romance, sexuality and irreverence. The film opens in the small town of Guantanamera, where Yoyita, a famous singer (Conchita Brando), has returned to a hero's welcome after 50 years in Havana. She is reunited with Candido (Raul Eguren), the lover of her youth, and as they gaze upon each other their old love is rekindled--placing too great a stress on poor Yoyita's heart. The dead singer is the aunt of Georgina (Ibarra), the long-suffering wife of a local bureaucrat named Adolfo (Carlos Cruz). He is a humorless tyrant with a mad scheme for transporting corpses. Instead of putting a dead body into a hearse at this end and taking it out at the other, he believes the body should be transferred to a different vehicle at every provincial border, spreading the petrol costs around. Elementary math suggests that everyone would end up with essentially the same gas bill, but no matter--Adolfo is a zealot backed by the power of his office.
Adolfo, Georgina and the grieving old Candido set off on a journey to return the body to the family plot, and that provides "Guantanamera'' with the excuse for a road comedy that also documents in zestful detail how sanity survives in the everyday life of today's Cuba. As they hit the road, we meet two truck drivers, the womanizing Mariano (Jorge Perugorria) and the devout Ramon (Pedro Fernandez). They pilot a big vehicle over ill-kept rural roads, providing not only a delivery service but also a sort of lifeline; hitchhikers jump on and off, messages are sent, gossip is exchanged, and Mariano has a lover in every hamlet (some of them as devious as he is).