Cine Havana

A new film ham-handedly glimpses the Cuban capital's psychosis

Luis Moro ignored restrictions on filming in Cuba to make the drama Love & Suicide during a 2003 trip to the island, and he obviously has a passion for the place. This passion fuels Moro's charm as an actor with a central role.

But as coscreenwriter of the film, now showing at AMC CocoWalk, Moro saddles his character, the beefy, easygoing cabbie Alberto, with too much beneficent wisdom and ponderous dialogue. "Life will never outlast time" — this is the sort of nifty, uplifting tautology that Alberto proffers to try to buck up his new compadre Tomas. Alberto is a swarthy, heartbroken American tourist holed up in a Havana hotel with booze, pills, weaponry, and an apparent death wish.

Love & Suicide holds some interest, primarily as a love letter to Havana, or perhaps a monument to creative willpower. As a story, despite Moro's solid performance, it's flimsy stuff: a run-of-the-mill screenplay executed by an acting triangle that is two-thirds tone-deaf. Kamar De Los Reyes plays Tomas — though he'll likely remain better known for his role as Antonio Vega on ABC's One Life to Live and for his place in the pantheon of People's 50 sexiest bachelors. Daisy McCrackin is cast as Tomas's budding love interest, Nina.

Budding? Really the courtship between these two tourists is more like a creeping vine, one that might choke you with boredom before it's through playing out. Nina and Tomas meet in a stairwell, for some unclear reason, where Tomas is supposed to be either sleeping off a bender or gearing up for another one, and they feint at real conversation, talking past one another. De Los Reyes, for his part, overdoes the low, sexy growl. McCrackin, whom you might have caught in Halloween: Resurrection, seems to owe her casting to her vague, red-headed resemblance to Heather Graham. She makes De Los Reyes, with his tedious melancholy, look like Olivier. The courtship devolves as they get closer, particularly in a scene that includes Nina and Tomas acting like a couple of idiots at a bar.

The cabbie Alberto meets Tomas when the latter is contemplating getting himself killed — by barging in on el jefe, Fidel Castro. Alberto can't resist the urge to pour forth some of his hard-boiled, homespun wisdom as he leans against his gleaming burgundy '53 Chevy. Tomas, the drip, replies to Alberto's lecturing with a brusque "Look, I'm not looking to the future, all right?" He sounds more dissolute than determined, however, and seems likely to be no match for Alberto's wiles. This becomes especially clear when Alberto becomes a tour guide for Tomas and Nina.

At times the cinematography in Love & Suicide mimics Tomas's psychic state: Frenetic and jittery, the camera becomes a blunt instrument as our antihero makes desperate, loopy phone calls to his newly absent lover. On the other hand, when Demian Lichtenstein takes the cameras out onto the Cuban streets, he awakens us to the real achievement of Love & Suicide — that it was shot in Cuba at all — as well as to its true star: not Moro, but the Communist holdout nation itself. Sure, Lichtenstein's camera romanticizes the island's decrepitude, but even a state of slow decay can be captivating in the right light. The plazas and boulevards are shot from heroic low angles, the cigar-chomping mamacita card-reader is wonderfully oblivious to the camera (if only the same could be said for De Los Reyes or McCrackin), and a sequence of vintage American cars in various states of preservation and disrepair gives a vivid sense of place.

Moro's cabby stands nobly for a poor segment of Cuban society, and his newfound gig driving a dissembling tourist puts extraordinary amounts of food on the family table. So much food, in fact, that he throws Tomas and Nina a feast, which becomes an instrument for breaking down Tomas's real psychosis (daddy issues).

Directed and co-written by Lisa France, Love & Suicide can't shrug off the weight of contrivances and false epiphanies that substitute for real narrative. Which is too bad, because Moro has a bit of the impresario in him. In stronger hands, his enthusiasm for the island that is part of his heritage — born in America, he is of Afro-Cuban descent — might have been harnessed to better cinematic ends.

 
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