Memories of Underdevelopment

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Memories of Underdevelopment
Memorias del Subdesarrollo Poster.jpg
Directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Written by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Screenplay by Edmundo Desnoes
Based on Inconsolable Memories
by Edmundo Desnoes
Starring Sergio Corrieri
Daisy Granados
Music by Leo Brouwer
Cinematography Ramón F. Suárez
Edited by Nelson Rodríguez
Distributed by ICAIC
Release date
  • 19 August 1968 (1968-08-19)
Running time
97 minutes
Country Cuba
Language Spanish

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.


Major themes[edit]

Alienation – Sergio’s isolated state and how his isolation affects him and those around him is one of the most predominant theme in the film. But alienation is present as a theme on another level: this film paints a picture of Cuba as an island country facing annihilation as a whole.

Underdevelopment - This term is often used to describe countries with a colonized economy that are insufficiently industrially developed. Sergio is constantly reiterating how underdeveloped Cuba is, so Cuba’s underdevelopment comes to be a predominant theme in the film. The documentary footage used also depicts images of Cuba’s underdevelopment.

The bourgeoisie – The film concerns the life of a bourgeois intellectual, Sergio, who is not necessarily a sympathetic character. He is a middle class man who has chosen to remain in Cuba during the revolution. The story provides the perspective of a member of the bourgeoisie, which helped differentiate the film for audiences.

The Cuban Revolution – the political climate of Cuba in the early 1960s provides the framework for the film. The course of Sergio’s life is altered by the Cuban revolution when his wife leaves him to escape the revolution and he chooses to stay. This theme is enhanced with real documentary footage and audio from Cuban media sources.

The place of the intellectual in the revolution – Throughout this film, Sergio feels lost and alienated, as he is unsure of where someone like him—a Europhile intellectual—belongs amidst the revolution of an underdeveloped country. As the film progresses, he doesn’t actively search for his role, but rather, he meanders about considering various possible roles, never with much urgency.

Sergio as a protagonist[edit]

One of the most defining aspects of this film is Sergio as a character. Sergio is an intellectual who spends most of his time alone, observing and thinking. He prides himself on his intellectuality, and on his European sensibility. He is both obsessed with and condescending toward the underdevelopment in Cuba. Sergio is also characterized by his numerous encounters with different women throughout the film. He rarely seems connected to any of the women he encounters, and appears to be more interested in sex than in anything else. His relationship with his wife is deeply flawed, and toward the beginning of the film he is seen fantasizing about the a woman's baptism. Later, Sergio begins a relationship with a young girl named Elena, but things take a negative turn when it’s revealed that she is much more interested in him than he is in her. As Sergio and Elena’s relationship is deteriorating, the audience learns about Hanna, someone Sergio previously knew who he actually appeared to love. Ultimately, Sergio’s flawed personality made him a unique and memorable protagonist to many audiences throughout Cuba and the rest of the world.


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".

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]

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.” [12] 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.[13] 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.” [14] 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.” [15]

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. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 25, No. 1 (1999), pp. 20-23
  13. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  14. ^ Cinéaste, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 16-21, 58
  15. ^ Film Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Winter, 1975-1976), pp. 45-52

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