Apr 8, 2010

Backs Turned (1957)

One has to marvel at Something Weird Video's knack for digging out the most subterranean of obscurities-- case in point, this oddity from pre-Bay of Pigs Cuba (distributed on VHS under the title Cuban Confidential, with lurid box art to make it seem like it is some heavy-breathing melodrama-- which it is not). This spin on Celine's Journey To the End of The Night finds a listless bureaucrat who takes the day off of work to walk around the Cuban city and countryside wondering why there is so much lack of consideration for the human condition. "Why was this child allowed to die?" is typical of the many existential lines that are muttered in this rambling narrative. For a while, it almost seems that this effort is some kind of surreal, dreamlike treatise, as the protagonist wanders in a cemetery, witnesses a baby dying in a hospital, and even chats with an inmate who is sentenced to death row. It doesn't work as surrealism, nor can one perceive this as grittily realistic, witnessed by the improbable scene where he would be allowed to visit a condemned man in his cell. As it stands, the movie is stilted and thuddingly amateurish. Since this was backed by American producers (ironically, in hindsight), they had the foresight to solve dubbing problems with such an easy cop-out as the man who appears at the beginning and end, sitting in patio furniture, telling us how we're all the same, all while his back is to the camera! (I'm not sure if that's what the title means.) This essay on dehumanization is more interesting for the backgrounds: it's worth a look for the tertiary view of pre-Castro Cuba. However, for what this film is trying to do, Tomas Guittierez Alea's Death of a Bureaucrat succeeds exponentially better.

(originally published in ESR #9)

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