A table parallel to the view of the camera with books, a wooden artists dummy, and a rotary phone. A neatly decorated apartment with an AbEx painting can be seen in the background. A woman stand with back to the viewer leaning against the wall.

Short Shadows: Memories of Underdevelopment

Agnès Varda and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Wednesday, September 4, 2019 at 7PM

A double-bill of iconic films produced in 1960s Havana. Salud les Cubains (1963) by Agnès Varda and Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea both take a documentary approach in capturing Havana and its inhabitants, while producing starkly divergent fictions. The first is a joyful journalistic photo-montage shot through the lens of a master of the French experimental tradition, and the second is a feature film that firmly takes its cues from a Cuban revolutionary tactic of “imperfect cinema.”

Invited by Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (of which Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was a key member) to visit Havana in 1962, Varda left her bulky 16mm film camera behind, favoring the portability of a stills camera in order to capture the Cuban political climate. The resulting photo-montage Salud les Cubains is a lively portrait of post-revolutionary Cuba indebted in its narration to Chris Marker’s legendary work of experimental cinema La Jetée that was produced the year prior. Although a staunchly political film in its intention, it is marked by the exoticizing cultural aesthetic of European Left political cinema. Animated with over 1500 stills and edited to the tempo of Cuban music, Varda weaves recordings of Fidel Castro with an impressionistic voice-over narrated by herself and actor Michel Piccoli in a film described by the artist as “socialism and cha-cha-cha.”

Released five years after Varda’s film, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s recently restored Memories of Underdevelopment, based on the novel Inconsolable Memories by Edmundo Desnoes, is a touchstone of Cuban revolutionary cinema. Alea incorporated footage shot on location and found documentary materials into his fictionalized story of the bourgeois dilettante, Sergio, who stays behind in Havana after his family has fled the revolution. In Alea’s words, “photographs, direct documentation, fragments of newsreels, recorded speeches, [and] filming on the street with a hidden camera on some occasions, were resources we could count on and needed to develop to the fullest.” The striking black and white cinematography of this cautionary tale is an iconic example of Cuba’s “imperfect cinema”—Latin American movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s that emphasized deep cultural and social engagement.


  • Salud les Cubains (1963)
  • Agnès Varda
  • Memories of Underdevelopment (1968)
  • Tomás Gutiérrez Alea

Main Image: Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Courtesy Janus Films

A Black Cuban couple wearing 1950's clothing dancing joyfully in a crowded street.

Salud les Cubains (1963) by Agnès Varda. Courtesy Janus Films. 

Dates + Tickets

Short Shadows: Memories of Underdevelopment
Agnès Varda and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Wednesday 4
7:00 PM
September 2019
$10 — RPI Students Advance Tickets $6, EMPAC+ FREE
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EMPAC Fall 2019 presentations, residencies, and commissions are made possible by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts. Additional project support by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship Program; and Creative Scotland.