Cuban cinematography has a lot to offer, from various movie genres to different filming techniques. But all of them have one thing in common, an excellent story. Its moviemakers rely on their country’s stunning landscape, intriguing history and interesting individuals who then make up for many unforgettable movies.
Dramas, comedies and documentaries, all of them telling one or more great stories will definitely transfer you to this unusual island with its specific music and lifestyle. This is the list of the 20 best Cuban movies of all time.
Una noche (One Night, 2012)
Havana, Cuba and its living conditions make many youngsters feel as if suffocating. Miami is so close, and yet so far, but Raul doesn’t stop dreaming of it. When he gets accused of an assault his only possibility is to flee. He turns to his best friend Elio and asks him to help him on this 90 miles long journey across the ocean.
Elio also wants to escape his life in the capital but is torn between this urge and the wish to help his friends and the need to protect his younger sister. This night will be a big test for all of them, full of hope and decisions and one of the big challenges of their lives.
Viva Cuba (2005)
In this modern day Romeo and Juliet, the friendship of two children is threatened by the enormous differences between their families. Malu lives with his single mother in an upper class society and she doesn’t want him to socialise with Jorgito who is of a more modest background.
Jorgito’s mother shares the same opinion, being a strong, but poor socialist, proud of her way of living. But none of them is aware of the special bond between the boy and the girl. When they find out that Malu’s mother plans on leaving Cuba, they travel to the other side of the island to find Malu’s father and convince him to sign the papers that don’t allow for her to be taken away.
Conducta (Behavior, 2014)
One of the most Cuban appraised movies from the last decade, a drama that tells the story of an ageing teacher Carmela who has a soft spot for the children coming from broken homes. Her headmaster asks her to take care of a 12-years old Chala who is in love with Yeni. Both of them are poor and are going through difficult situations at home.
This movie is a brilliant portrait of Cuban society and the way of living, full of discrepancies between the upper and lower classes. It shows the seriousness of all the issues, but also gives hope as Carmela’s class can be observed as a safe space for the ones that are different and not heard at home, but can express themselves somewhere else.
Fresa y chocolate (1993)
Another Cuban gem is this romantic drama about Diego, a young homosexual who falls in love with a young heterosexual communist David, full of prejudice and conservative views and ideas. At first, David is against everything Diego wants to share with him, but slowly, after many numerous conversations about their own life views, David starts showing more signs of affection toward Diego.
As their relationship intensifies, some other background stories begin to interfere with it and don’t leave them enough space to develop it into something more. In the end, we are left with an ambiguous closure that leaves us the freedom to speculate on what might happen in the future.
Retrato de Teresa (1979)
Teresa is a middle aged woman who finds herself overwhelmed with her life situation. Married, with three sons, a stressful job and volunteer work, she is in the middle of several life decisions. Her husband Ramon wants more of her attention, but she feels as if she is made to do more than cater to him and spend time at home.
After they separate and her husband has an affair but soon after wants to come back home, Teresa suddenly realises who she was living with all these years and concludes that there is so much more to life and that she has numerous opportunities to seize and do what she always wanted to do.
This is an interesting period drama about three women, all named Lucia, in three different time periods. We are taken to the 1930s, 1960s and the time of the Cuban war of independence and we follow the events through the eyes of these three women.
This movie was shot in black and white and it is a great insight into different Cuban historical periods, providing the audience with much new and intriguing information about this country. It gained many prizes and is one of the classics of Cuban cinematography.
Suite Habana (Havana Suite, 2013)
Even though a documentary, this movie was filmed with fictional cinema techniques and it is considered as one of the most important and influential Cuban movies of all time. It is completely without dialogue, relying only on music and image to convey all its message.
It is an interesting approach and a completely different way of filming since most Cuban movies extensively use spoken words. The story encompasses one day in Havana, from the early dawn when we start following ten men and their ordinary lives, from family to work issues and everything that can fit in 24 hours.
De cierta manera (One Way or Another, 1974)
This romantic drama tells the story of Yolanda who works as a teacher and is struggling to find the appropriate means and ways to teach the children coming from slums, due to the differences in their origin. Yolanda is also in the middle of a possible relationship with Mario, a worker in a bus factory who is intimidated by her progressive and feminist views.
This movie brilliantly depicts the differences between men and women born and raised in conservative and strict surroundings and shows us what should happen to make a relationship work. Sexism, racism and all different kind of prejudice must be forgotten and erased in order to keep a relationship going, but also start understanding the ones who are different from us.
El Benny (2006)
This musical drama is inspired by a true story about Benny More, a musician who starts his own “Banda gigante” after leaving the orchestra of Duany somewhere in the 1950s. We learn about his life, endeavour, and ups and downs in Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela through flashbacks.
Benny has gone through a lot, fought with alcohol addiction, and had to deal with a vengeful businessman, but he decided to put everything behind after collapsing and being hospitalised. Many years later, he will remember all his past days when he meets his old band-mate Monchy.
Las doce sillas (The Twelve Chairs, 1962)
This is a comedy about a wealthy woman who doesn’t want to give up on all her possessions and hand them to the new socialist government. She decides to hide all her treasure in the twelve chairs of her dining set.
After her death, her nephew finds out what she’s done and since all her chairs are now in the possession of different people, he will have to track them down and try and claim what he thinks is rightfully his.
Los sobrevivientes (The Survivors, 1979)
In this drama, an aristocratic family, unsatisfied with the changes in the country’s political scene, decides to isolate itself from the outside world and ignore everything that goes on outside. They are fully convinced that things are going to get back to as they were.
Soon they will begin to realise that nothing is going back to the way it was, and their decisions are going to become more difficult to follow. This surreal story shows what choices people have to make if they don’t want to disappoint their ideals and themselves.
Memorias del desarrollo (Memories of Overdevelopment, 2010)
Sergio is an intellectual who gives up on the Cuban Revolution and underdevelopment and finds himself at odds with the challenges of the developed world. This movie is shot in flashbacks and hallucinations and consists of animation, live-action and newsreel footage.
It depicts a man with no specific political and ideological opinion, a strange in a big world who fights with alienation, sexual desire and the inability to adapt and belong to the modern society.
La ultima cena (The Last Supper, 1975)
This story takes us back to 1790, at the time of Cuba’s Spanish colonial period. The plantation owner decides to recreate the Last Supper by using twelve of his slaves who work on his sugarcane fields. He hopes that slaves will be introduced to Christianity in that way and learn more about his beloved religion.
They are invited to a supper by a count where they are promised so much more than they have now, but when this doesn’t happen as it was said, they rebel. The plantation owner never meant to fulfil the count’s promises and now everyone finds themselves in a situation where no one will get out of it whole.
La muerte de un burócrata (Death of a Bureaucrat, 1966)
One of the most famous and memorable Cuban movies is definitely this drama about a widow of a Cuban worker who is going to need his union card in order to claim her pension. But the problem is that her husband was buried with it and now she and her nephew will have to go through various situations to retrieve it.
This results in a hilarious battle between the young man and the authorities when he tries to convince them to rebury him so he can take it from him. Somehow they manage it, but the real problems arise then when the bureaucracy turns down their plea to re-bury him, stating that it has already been done.
La primera carga al machete (1969)
This interesting drama tells the story of Spanish soldiers and Cuban peasants who recall the events from the late 19th century when a bloody event involving machete-slicing Cubans occurred.
The movie brings the audience an interesting insight into the history of warfare and the way machetes started being used. It was a tool used in the sugar can fields that slowly became one of the most dangerous and murderous weapons in wars.
Vampiros en la Habana (Vampires in Havana, 1985)
This unforgettable cartoon can and should be found on any list of the best Cuban movies. It follows the story of a scientist who invents a potion that will allow vampires to get out in the world during the daytime, too. When the vampires of the world learn about this Cuban revolutionary invention, they fly to the island in order to gain control over the potion.
Soon this becomes a real war between American and East European vampires, but the one who holds the key to their changed lifestyle is the scientist’s nephew since he has the formula for the potion.
Una novia para David (1985)
This romantic comedy is an interesting outtake on a teenage love story where a shy country boy finds himself between his best friends and a strong willed overweight girl he falls in love with. Being pressured by his peers on one side and trying to cope with his feelings on the other causes him more problems than he has ever imagined.
This is an excellent portrait of Cuban society in the 1960s and a nostalgic reminder to all who lived in that period. The movie features a great soundtrack and brilliantly depicts the socio-economic situation of the island at the time.
This 50-minutes long movie brings the story of Laura, a college professor who goes through her daughter’s Laurita constant changes and mood swings. One day Laurita is a teen rebel, the other day she looks like a bohemian, but slowly she crosses the line when she becomes obsessed with religion and good works.
One day she brings ten orphaned children to a small and cramped apartment she shares with her mother and grandmother. This movie wonderfully depicts post-revolutionary Cuba and the search for identity shown through Laurita’s teenage struggles.
La vida es silbar (Life Is to Whistle, 1998)
This funny and interesting comedy drama talks about three characters in modern day Cuba who need to decide whether to stick to their conservative beliefs or get rid of them to live more freely. Marina is a ballet dancer who promised God her celibacy if she ever gets the role of Giselle.
Percussionist Elpidio is still dealing with the loss of his mother who abandoned him some time ago. And Julia is a social worker who always faints after hearing a certain word.
La bella del Alhambra (The Beauty of the Alhambra, 1989)
This excellent musical drama shows the story of Esther, the most beloved actress in one of the most famous theatres in Havana. It is the end of the 19th century and we follow her beginnings and rise to one of the biggest artists of her time.
Besides following her artistic career, we are introduced to her love stories, when she loses the love of her life on her way to the top and finds herself in a passionate affair that almost destroys her entire musical career.