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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Memories of Underdevelopment aka "Memorias del subdesarrollo" [Blu-ray]

 

(Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968)

 

Mr. Bongo's edition is also being released on Blu-ray in the US

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos (ICAIC)

Video: Mr. Bongo

 

Disc:

Region: FREE (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:38:37.500

Disc Size: 22,808,213,267 bytes

Feature Size: 22,728,425,472 bytes

Video Bitrate: 26.93 Mbps

Chapters: 7

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 17th, 2017

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio Spanish 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, none

 

Extras:

• None

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Memories of Underdevelopment follows Sergio (Sergio Corrieri – Soy Cuba), through his life, following the departure of his wife, parents and friends in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Alone in a brave new world, Sergio observes the constant threat of foreign invasion, before meeting Elena (Daisy Granados), a young woman he seeks to mould into the image of his ex-wife, but at what cost to himself?

Even though director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was a staunch and devoted supporter of the revolution, Memories of Underdevelopment offers a raw and uncompromising analysis of the newly formed system of government. Through a moving blend of narrative fiction, still photography and rare documentary footage, Alea catalogues the intricacies of the early days of the Castro regime; producing a stirring and enigmatic work that feeds off the culture of the very subject it is studying: Cuba.

One of the early landmark films of post-revolutionary Cuban cinema, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea said of his 1968 opus: ‘Every day, to build our society, we have to confront the type of people we despise…I hope with my film, to annoy, provoke, and upset all of them.

 

***

Hailed as one of – if not the most – sophisticated films ever to come out of Cuba, Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias Del Subdesarollo) is visionary Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s tour de force. Now, thanks to Mr Bongo Films, the film is set to arrive in a stunningly restored version on UK Blu-ray for the first time.

Listed at number fifty-four on Derek Malcolm’s 100 Greatest Movies, this cinematic masterpiece has been fully restored using the original camera and sound negative by Cineteca di Bologna with a vintage duplicate provided by the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos. This international initiative to save the film from decay was funded by The George Lucas Family Foundation and the Martin Scorsese-chaired World Cinema Project, founded to provide a resource for those countries lacking archival and technical facilities. Memories of Underdevelopment makes its Blu-ray debut on 20 February 2017.

 

 

The Film:

The Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) was founded in 1959, only months after Castro came to power. It was some years, however, before its fruits were exposed to European and US audiences; Alea's film, his fifth feature, was the breakthrough. The story is related in the form of a diary by a prosperous bourgeois who chooses to stay in Havana when his family leaves for the States in 1961. While he rejects many of the bourgeois ideals of his upbringing, he is unable to shake off either sexual neurosis or his European-based intellectual paralysis, continuing to live uncertainly as a rent-drawing property-owner. The 'underdevelopment' of the title is a complex pun describing both individual and national problems of the revolution in its infancy, though the film is anything but literary in its attack: Alea proceeds with dazzling and highly accomplished technique towards a perceptive and witty analysis. Many critics at the time were surprised by the strain of self-criticism running through a film produced by what is virtually a government ministry in a Marxist country.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE

A very dry title for an absolutely tremendous film from 1968 by the Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. This transfixing movie, with its mix of freewheeling dialogue scenes, still photo images and documentary footage, conjures up the uncertain mood of Havana just after the revolution. It is something to put alongside the Soviet classic Soy Cuba from 1964, and in fact stars a Cuban actor from that film, Sergio Corrieri gives an outstanding performance as a wealthy idler who long ago allowed his artistic aspirations to wilt. When the Batista regime falls, his family, friends and pampered wife all flee to Miami but for reasons that he cannot quite explain, Sergio stays in the new Cuba, drifting, yet weirdly exhilarated and liberated. He becomes entangled in an messy affair with a 17-year-old, and ponders the fact that he has become like a decadent plant, with huge leaves and no fruit. Cuba, he now sees, has been "underdeveloped" according to the Marxist analysis, and his tragedy is that he can only dimly understand what part he has played in this, and has no clue as to how his own personal and spiritual underdevelopment might be remedied.

Excerpt from TheGuardian located HERE

 

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Memories of Underdevelopment gets a 4K restoration transfer, thanks to the World Cinema Project and arrived on Blu-ray from Mr. Bongo in the UK.  It's single-layered with a supportive bitrate for the 1.5 hour feature. There has been extensive restoration as noted by text screen informing us:

 

"Restored by Cineteca di Bologna at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in association with Instituto Cubana del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC)

Restoration funded by The George Lucas Family Foundation's World Cinema Project.

Special thanks to the Filoteca de la UNAM and Camelia Films for their help with the project.

The restoration of Memorias del subdesarrollo was made possible through the use of the original camera and sound negative and a vintage interpositive provided and preserved by ICAIC.

The camera negative was affected overall by advanced vinegar syndrome - in particular where the duplicate negatives of archival footage are edited into the film - causing a consistent 'halo' on the image. Most of reel 3 was irreversibly crystallized and half of reel 4 was badly compromised by decay. The interpositive was used to replace the image in those portions.

The camera negative was restored in 4K and scanned using a wet-gate only for the most problematic sections.

The dual bilateral variable area sound negative showed a poor photographic definition, resulting in a harsh and raspy sound, with noticeable image spread distortion.

Scratches, dirt and dust on the emulsion caused heavy crackles and clicks during reproduction. Sound restoration was able to significantly reduce these issues."

 

After all that, I'd say the resulting presentation should be considered a success. There are sequences of inconsistency but, example, the fact that the archival footage in most films usually differs in quality - I didn't find it a major issue in viewing Memorias del subdesarrollo. There is pleasing grain - it is not overly digitized as we have seen from some Ritrovata restorations - and we can frequently see depth in the visuals - more apparent as the film advances into the second half. It's far from perfect but viewers should appreciate the work done and will find a decent, highly watchable, black and white, 60's film video in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. I think we'd be foolish to expect more from this.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

The Mr. Bongo Blu-ray of Memories of Underdevelopment uses a, fairly robust, linear PCM 2.0 channel (24-bit). The sound quality, is again at the mercy of the restoration ability, but seemed acceptable to me with only a few imperfect transitions. The score is by Leo Brouwer - the Afro-Cuban composer, classical guitarist and conductor and the lone guitar pieces definitely suit the film inferring a very introspective feeling. it's flat but sounds quite clean via the uncompressed. There are optional English subtitles (sample above) and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE.

 

Extras :

Unfortunately no extras at all - not even a theatrical trailer. Certainly it deserves some discussion or at least a liner notes leaflet.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Memories of Underdevelopment is a curious film made at a very politically turbulent and changing atmosphere. We can some who's lives changed very little and be aware of others who were devastated. It's a curious historical artifact and an intellectually mystifying cinema experience.  The Mr. Bongo Blu-ray provides the existing 4K restoration a 1080P transfer for ownership and  home theatre viewing. It's quite a find and deserves and audience. Absolutely recommended! 

Gary Tooze

February 22nd, 2017

Mr. Bongo's edition is also being released on Blu-ray in the US


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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