Memories of Underdevelopment

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Memories of Underdevelopment
Memorias del Subdesarrollo Poster.jpg
Directed byTomás Gutiérrez Alea
Written byTomás Gutiérrez Alea
Screenplay byEdmundo Desnoes
Based onInconsolable Memories
by Edmundo Desnoes
StarringSergio Corrieri
Daisy Granados
Music byLeo Brouwer
CinematographyRamón F. Suárez
Edited byNelson Rodríguez
Distributed byICAIC
Release date
  • 19 August 1968 (1968-08-19)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryCuba Cuba

Memories of Underdevelopment (Spanish: Memorias del Subdesarrollo) is a 1968 Cuban film written and directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. The story is based on a novel by Edmundo Desnoes entitled Inconsolable Memories (Spanish: Memorias del Subdesarrollo). It was Alea's fifth film, and probably his most famous worldwide. The film gathered several awards at international film festivals. It was elected the 144th best film of all time in the Sight & Sound 2012 poll. It was ranked by the New York Times as one of the 10 best films of 1968.[1][2]


Sergio, a wealthy bourgeois aspiring writer, decides to stay in Cuba even though his wife and friends flee to Miami. Sergio looks back over the changes in Cuba, from the Cuban Revolution to the missile crisis, the effect of living in an underdeveloped country, and his relations with his girlfriends Elena and Hanna. Memories of Underdevelopment is a complex character study of alienation during the turmoil of social changes. The film is told in a highly subjective point of view through a fragmented narrative that resembles the way memories function. Throughout the film, Sergio narrates action, and at times is used as a tool to present bits of political information about the climate in Cuba at the time. In several instances, real-life documentary footage of protests and political events are incorporated into the film and played over Sergio’s narration to expose the audience to the reality of the Revolution. The timeframe of the film is somewhat ambiguous, but it appears to take place over a few months.



Because many Cubans already had a revolutionary mentality by the time the film was released, it was regarded more as a representation of an outdated stream of thought. Memories of Underdevelopment was popular in the United States.[3] Many American critics were “suitably impressed by the film as a stylistic tour de force as well as a subtle and complex portrait of an uncommitted intellectual from a bourgeois background swept up in a vortex of revolutionary change and the threat of nuclear extinction at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”[4] In an interview with Cineaste Magazine in 1977, Alea is quoted saying that “Memories was in general much better understood and evaluated in the US because people perceived the attempt to criticize the bourgeois mentality.” [5] Alea was also surprised that many people went to see the film more than once in an effort to further understand its meaning.

The film was selected for screening as part of the Cannes Classics section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[6]

Production details[edit]

Sergio visits Finca Vigía, the Cuban home of Ernest Hemingway. While he reflects on Hemingways attitude to Cuba, Elena is bored by "dead animals and books".
The apartment where Sergio lived was filmed in a thirty-fourth floor penthouse of the FOCSA Building

Before the film's release, both the director, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, and the main actor, Sergio Corrieri, were concerned that the film wouldn’t be successful.[7] The film was largely inexpensive to produce, as it was made without many technological or economic resources,[8] and as a result Alea feared that his vision wouldn’t translate to the screen.

Another concern of Alea’s was that Corrieri would seem too young for his part. At the time of shooting in 1968 Corrieri was 28, yet the character was intended to be 38. Alea and Corrieri worked together to capture the "different rhythm" that Corrieri needed to take on to play the part of someone 10 years his senior in a number of ways, including by dyeing Corrieri’s hair grey.[9]

"Hanna," Sergio’s long-lost love in the film, was intended to be a much larger character, but the actress that ended up being cast was not a professional, so the character’s role was reduced.[10]

Because of the political turmoil between the US and Cuba at the time, the US government denied Alea a visitor’s visa in 1970 when he attempted to enter the US to receive several awards he had won for Memories of Underdevelopment, using the Trading with the Enemy Act as justification.[11] Sergio's apartment in the film was a penthouse in the FOCSA Building.[12]

Adaptation from novel to film[edit]

The film adaptation has generally been regarded as an improvement on the novel. In an interview in 1999, Sergio Corrieri was quoted stating, “I think that Memories is one of the few cases in which the film is better than the novel, because usually the opposite is the case. Almost always the cinematic version of a novel comes up short, but here the film transcended the novel.” [13] Alea explains in an interview with Cineaste in 1977 that at a certain point the novel “was to be betrayed, negated and transformed into something else” for it to be successful as a film.[14] Alea also comments that the author, Desnoes, was fully conscious of the fact that his book would be changed as it was made into a movie, and therefore he was able to keep a positive attitude. Desnoes ended up attending shooting sessions and making valuable suggestions. Desnoes commented that the film achieved a level of artistic success that the novel missed because Alea “objectivized a world that was shapeless… and still abstract in the book” by adding “social density.” [15] Desnoes appears himself as a panelist in a round table.

The film was poorly received by some critics because Sergio was an unconventional protagonist. The author of the novel, Edmundo Desnoes, writes of Sergio in Cine Cubano, “that is the tragedy of Sergio. His irony, his intelligence, is a defense mechanism which prevents him from being involved in the reality.” [16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  2. ^, Memories of Underdevelopment at Sight & Sound 2012 poll
  3. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  4. ^ Cinéaste 8.1 (Jan 1, 1977)
  5. ^ Cinéaste 8.1 (Jan 1, 1977)
  6. ^ "Cannes Classics 2016". Cannes Film Festival. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  7. ^ Cineaste 35.2 (Spring 2010): 18-25
  8. ^ Cineaste 35.2 (Spring 2010): 18-25
  9. ^ Cineaste 35.2 (Spring 2010): 18-25
  10. ^ Cineaste 35.2 (Spring 2010): 18-25
  11. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  12. ^ Falcon, Olga. Chapter IV, Page 301, Illustration 45 "Urban Utopias in Havana's Representations. An Interdisciplinary Analysis", Middlesex University, London, September 11, 20118
  13. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1999), pp. 20-23
  14. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  15. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  16. ^ Film Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter, 1975-1976), pp. 45-52

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