March 11, 2019  (Web Review)

Return to Cuba

(2016) 78 min. In Spanish w/English subtitles. DVD: $145: public libraries; $350: colleges & universities. DRA. PRAGDA ( PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Montreal filmmaker David Fabrega captures a nation in flux as the vivacious Barbara Ramos returns to her birthplace in Cuba after 18 years abroad. Ramos left for Italy in 1996 during the U.S. blockade when she fell in love with an Italian tourist. About Castro, Barbara states, “He may have made 1,000 mistakes, but I stay loyal to Fidel.” Once the political situation improved, she returned to her Santa Clara hometown (and her new life includes a Canadian boyfriend). She begins by renovating her grandparents’ Colonial-style complex. In the past, Cubans weren’t allowed to run private businesses out of their homes, but the rules have changed since her mother passed away. Barbara plans to live in one room and rent the others to tourists. Her neighbors don’t understand why she came back, given that it is still hard to make a living, but they share her love for the land and its culture. Barbara also reunites with her brother, Lorenzo, who lived with her for a few years in Italy, where Ramos’s 18-year-old daughter, Anna Carla, still lives. If Barbara and Lorenzo regret Cuba’s low wages and limited retail options, they appreciate the free education and healthcare. Barbara also praises the increasing openness towards LGBTQ citizens, such as her transgender friend, Juana. To make money, Barbara sells Italian clothing, going through unofficial channels, since Cuba discourages the sale of imported goods. And by film’s end, her hotel is open and ready for guests. Fabrega’s film has a loose, digressive feel that suits the subject, who he documents with clear affection. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)