In what may be the angriest portrait of Cuba ever made, director Leon Ichaso (Crossover Dreams) charts the journey of one young man from patriot to disillusioned dropout to angry rebel. Gustavo (René Lavan) is an idealist... more »ic young Marxist scholar who dreams of attending the University of Prague. When he falls for an earthy dancer with a more pragmatic view of her homeland, who plans to escape to Florida, his ideals are systematically chipped away in the face of poverty, repression, corruption, and police brutality until it all becomes too much for him to bear. A far cry from the more romantic work of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Strawberry and Chocolate), this film speaks volumes about a generation of exiles burning with anger and hate for Castro and his regime. It's also manipulative and heavy-handed, with Gustavo less a hero than a straw figure poised for a fall, and it's far less revealing than such self-critical Cuban features as Portrait of Teresa and Memories of Underdevelopment. But its vivid and passionate feelings of betrayal can hardly be dismissed. Ichaso shot portions of the film in Cuba and smuggled the footage out, but Santo Domingo doubles for Havana through the bulk of the feature. --Sean Axmaker« less
"This is truly an excellent film. It will make you laugh and cry. If you were born in the island, like I was, then it will hit home. This is the truth about Cuba. I am 28 years old and I lived it. All of those reviewers that are telling you otherwise are full of it. For the one reviewer that praised the Cuban government for allowing this film to be filmed in Cuba, get a little bit more informed. You seem to be as misinformed about this as the reality of the Cuban life and government. The film was filmed in the Dominican Republic. Castro's totalitarian regime would never have allowed this type of film to be filmed in Cuba. Some real footage were purchased and are from within the island."
Shouldn't be missed
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 10/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tender, heartwrenching, and very romantic, this film is amazing, and will give a better understanding of Cuba and its people.This tragic love affair, set against the politics of repression is a story one won't forget...made vivid by the magnificent black and white cinematography and a marvelous soundtrack.The acting by everyone is superb, and the two leads, Mayte Vilan and Rene Lavan, utterly gorgeous. Miguel Guitierrez is so moving in the beautifully written part of the father.This is truly a wonderful film, and makes me so appreciative of the freedom I live in."
Bitter Sugar Depicts Our Bitter Truth
Carlos E Vazquez | Houston, TX | 03/15/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a Cuban American who came to this country at the age of 12, I was delighted to find a movie which so accurately depicts what my country is going through. Bitter Sugar is a love story, but it is more than that. It is the cinematic cliff notes of the 4-decade long suffering of a people. Anyone who has come from a Communist country will truly appreciate this film. Those of you who have not should make Bitter Sugar required viewing. I strongly encourage you to do so."
Cuba's Notorious Legacy
WritergirlFL | Florida | 03/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is a poignant look at modern Cuba and the continuance of the disparity and the opposition to basic freedoms in Cuba. Rene Lavan, known for his stint in tv, and now for Dirty Dancing 2 and Christmas with the Kranks, is stellar as man who has awakened from the dream of equanimity to a nightmare of injustice.
Rene plays Gustavo, a young revolutionary who has received a scholarship to study in Prague. His father, a mediocre psychiatrist, tries to keep his family afloat with humor and cliches about the revolution.
Gustavo's brother Bobby, a protester by day and a rocker by night, and ironically wearing a Che Guevara shirt, takes matters into his own hands. After being mercilessly beaten, he and his friends decide to inject themselves with AIDS-contaminated blood, giving new meaning to the saying, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death."
Gustavo's girlfriend Yolanda is a different kind of rebel. On the outside, she is an overly optimistic gal like Gustavo, but on the inside, she longs for abundance and a more easy going lifestyle. She pains to go to the other side, which she does at the end of the movie. She seduces an Italian tourist in order to enjoy the better things in life, while she falls for Gustavo whose intentions are practically pure.
Gustavo's perceptions of his beloved "patria," or nation change after realizing that his scholarship is fake, along with the beliefs that he held dearly. His professor confesses to him a regret of missing the chance to emigrate to Miami with his family. The academic tries to convey to Gustavo that regardless of his beliefs, he is responsible for his own fate.
In the end, Gustavo takes a drastic decision one that is ill-fated.
Rene's performance is the only one that is truly worth mentioning along with a fairly decent performance by the guy who plays his brother. Mayte although noteworthy in a couple of scenes, including an Ophelian type soliliquoy in the boudoir, is barely noticeable. However, between the beautiful photography, Rene's sincere and emotionally charged performance, and Leon Ichaso's perceptions of his beloved Cuba, make this an unforgettable and truly haunting look at the Communist nation."
The essence of cinema vérité
Andy Orrock | Dallas, TX | 07/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For me, "Azúcar Amarga" (Bitter Sugar) ranks right up there with the best films ever made about the Cuban experience under Fidel Castro. Although director Leon Ichaso must make due with Santo Domingo substituting for Havana, his real coup is that he's taken some cinema vérite footage he covertly filmed in Havana, smuggled it out of the country, and spliced it in with his Santo Domingo stuff.The result is electrifying: as water cannons and batons rain down on protestors, a young man turns his face to the camera and says: "Tell the world what is happening here." Incredible.To me, 'Azúcar' goes into the group of great films about Casto's Cuba, right beside 'Fresa y Chocolate' and 'Before Night Falls' (and, to a lesser extent, 'Guantanamera'). Unlike the others, 'Azúcar' is almost unrelentingly negative. There's no look at the hedonistic freedom of Batitsa's Cuba, like you get in 'Before Night Falls.' And there's none of the sly and gentle humor that marks 'Fresa.' Instead, the bloom is off the rose here. The regime is morally bankrupt and there's no going back."