A SUCCESSFUL MAN (Humberto Solás, 1985)

A Cuban The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) that enlists some of the style of Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), Un hombre de éxito is largely a sweeping, although carefully detailed portrayal of upper-class extravagance and decadence, and middle-class opportunism, during the last gasps of Machado’s increasingly censorial presidency and the long nightmare of Batista’s vicious police state. Cuba’s liberation by revolution comes as a brief, rushed coda; the front page newspaper headline thanking Fidel Castro may or may not hide a bit of irony, given the press’s subsequent difficulties with Castro’s regime. Written by the director and Juan Iglesias, Humberto Solás’s film won the top prize at Havana.
     The action principally revolves around three individuals: two brothers, Javier and Darío Argüelles, and their mother. Javier, an opportunist, survives Cuban political upheavals, possibly selling out his revolutionary brother, who retains the political idealism that they once both seemed to share. This trite, formulaic approach to complex national history, somewhat akin to soap opera, allows the film to bypass all nature of interesting material. At the very least, such a film as this might have probed in earnest someone’s—I believe, Darío’s—remark that he had traded in violence for “words.” The mother, I might add, appears grossly sentimental. My hope that the film would prove as powerful and humane as Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), also about brothers politically opposed to each other, didn’t pan out.
     On the other hand, the use of blacked-out space, especially early on, to suggest haunted historical memory, from which lit bits of figures and forms struggle to emerge, is exquisite. Moreover, numerous period songs and set-pieces of people dancing—there’s a stupendous amount of dancing in this film—poetically, sadly evoke the passage of time.

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