Monday, March 17, 2014
Love Under Cuban Skies Among Season's Best
I wasn't quite sure what to expect by the new TV documentary Love Under Cuban Skies.
You can check it out for yourself when it debuts on CBC's Doc Zone Thursday March 20 at 9 p.m.
The title is more than a little tempting. But veteran director Wendy Champagne really delivers here in a compassionate yet stark look at the many ways Canadian women of a certain age are finding romance under those Cuban skies.
The statistics are startling --more than 600,000 Canadian women each year are jetting off for Cuba and the numbers are fast increasing. It's still relatively cheap compared to other Caribbean tourist traps but the women are more interested in just getting the perfect tan.
"The more mature ones are after romance," Champagne is telling me on the phone. "Not sex. But romance although many of them know it simply can't last in the long run."
The trouble is that Cuba under the Castros experienced a backlash against the old Batista regime which was a sex haven for American tourists.
And Champagne shows young Cuban men being arrested by the police for appearing to consort with unwary female tourists. Another man caught smoking marijuana is jailed and faces a possibly long prison term.
"You contrast all this with the Latin culture which sees nothing wrong between a younger man and a mature woman," Champagne says.
"Yes, there are the male hookups and between older male tourists and younger Cuban girls, it is strictly a business proposition." The mature gents usually do not offer marriage and a home back in Canada.
"I was able to find some of these women who know exactly what they are doing," Champagne says. And as she filmed them over days --and in some cases many months back in Canada--she was struck by their optimism.
"Some know from the start it can't last forever. Others are not so sure, they are hoping this is it."
The men who are mostly in their early 20s are victims of the lingering economic recession in Cuba. We get to visit their homes and the conditions are shocking.
"For many people it's one solid meal a day, houses that lack most basic necessities. So these young men want to get away any way they can. They are sincere in thinking they are in love but is it realistic?"
Those liasons which do result in marriage and life back in Canada are threatened by the reality of a completely different Canadian lifestyle that quickly becomes unsustainable for many newcomers.
Champagne quite brilliantly documents this by vignettes of the various women. Jill, a professor of Women's Studies at the University of Regina, hooks up with the earnest Yandy. I can't disclose what happens in this relationship but it completely startled me.
Then there is bright and optimistic Montrealer Claire who is a patrol officer who begins pursuing Ricardo who works at the hotel where she is staying.
Paula who is slightly older becomes attracted by 23-year old aspiring dancer-actor Andy and brings him to live with her in San Diego.
Champagne (for Esperamos Films) captures the vulnerability of these women who are grasping at the slim chance they may yet find permanent happiness. But she also shows the young men are trapped in a hopeless system and trying any way to get out.
I was struck by the sadness of both sides at the end of this compelling and yet challenging look at love and illusion in a hot climate. All I can say is: Well done indeed!
LOVE UNDER CUBAN SKIES PREMIERES ON CBC-TV's HOT DOCS THURSDAY MARCH 20 AT 9 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.