More Spanish learning: A Man of Success

This Cuban film tells the story of two brothers over the course of nearly 30 years.

In addition to bedeviling American attempts to dislodge him for more than half a century, Fidel Castro has ruled over a period of significant Cuban films.

A Man of Success, which snared the top prize at the Havana Film Festival in 1986, is one of them.

The movie tells the story of two brothers, Dario and Javier, as they make their choices about how they live, and, ultimately, how one of them dies during close to 30 years starting in 1932 and ending with Castro’s triumphant arrival in Havana in 1959.

Both men initially share an opposition to the ruling regime, but rapidly veer in dramatically different directions.  Dario fiercely opposes the decadent and oppressive regimes that started with Gerardo Machado and culminated in Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro and his other revolutionaries toppled.

Dario’s actions eventually force him to leave the country.  But, rather than going to America as his family would have him do, he instead goes to Spain to back the Republican insurgents in their battle against the Fascist forces of General Franco.

If Dario has the courage of his convictions, Javier is the successful protagonist referred to in the title.  He trades in his ideals for a Gromyko-like ability to gather political power and riches while hewing to the line advocated by the latest leader-a development that is symbolized by his removing from his office wall the portrait of the outgoing leader and putting up a picture of the newest boss.

In other woods, in the immortal words of The Who, “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss.”

Javier even marries Darios’s old lover, showering her with material comfort and access to the finer things available to members of the upper echelons of Cuban society.  However, in love and in life, the truth will out.

In this case, the truth is that Javier’s life is a hollow man, and that the success he has accumulated predictably comes tumbling down as the Batista regime heads toward its final weeks.

In addition to the story it traces, A Man of Success provides ample examples of the indulgent life of the Cuban elite in settings of classical and intact architecture, replete with fine clothes and finer wine.

The brothers are born into these privileged environments, a background that serves to illustrate the moral dimensions of the brothers’ choices and that is illustrated by the mother’s changing responses to them (I won’t be giving the ending away by saying that her situation does not end happily.).

The unsurprising ending does not mean the film is not worth watching for reasons that extend beyond its contribution to my burgeoning understanding of the Spanish language.  I doubt if I’d give A Man of Success the grand prize as the Cuban judges when it premiered a quarter century ago, but I am glad that I spent the time to watch it over the past couple of days.

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