Directed by Jorge Perugorría,
Starring CuCu Diamantes, Andrés Levin, Adela Legra and Liosky Clavero.
Now Available on DVD, VOD and Digital
Acclaimed Cuban singer CuCu Diamentes, a New York City transplant since her college days, recently returned to her home country to perform in cities across the nation. It was the first time in history that an ex-pat Cuban musician had ever returned home for such a concert series. Director Jorge Perugorria’s thematically ambitious new film ‘Amor Crónico’ uses her performances as a jumping-off point, intertwining her concert footage with a fictional story about love, music, and miracles.
For the most part, “Amor” is quite charming. The concert footage is wonderfully energetic: Diamentes wears gaudy, revealing costumes, her huge ensemble band bubbles with passion and enthusiasm, and the crowds go wild. Onstage, Diamentes makes memorable use of props, puffing cigars, slugging back whiskey, and, most notably, climbing a staircase shaped like a stiletto hill.
In-between concerts, the film centers on Diamentes’s relationship with Guarapo (Liosky Clavero), a friend-turned-band manager who rapidly develops feelings for her. Guarapo, a little person, and a bit of a nobody, is keenly aware of his negligible chances with a statuesque megastar like Diamentes, and the likelihood that they will go their separate ways once her Cuban tour is over. But that doesn’t stop him from expressing his feelings, only to be gently rebuffed again and again. That’s pretty much the sum of the narrative, apart from some minor plot points, such as Guarapo’s bureaucratic efforts to secure government transportation funding for Diamentes and her ensemble.
The narrative is broken up by Guarapo’s dreams and fantasies. And no one can fault the movie for trying something different and unique, using surreal imagery to emphasize themes and emotions. But unfortunately, surrealist techniques can be mishandled: There is a fine line between riveting and pretentious.
One of Guarapo’s dreams takes the form an oddly placed homage to the silent horror era. The vampiric sequence highlights Guarapo’s jealousies, but its undeniable cheesiness is distracting, and detracts from the film’s attempts at theme and character development.
But some of Guarapo’s fantasies —for instance, one in which he envisions a life as a hard-working farmer, with CuCu at his side — beautifully depict the clash between Cucu’s humble roots and the lifestyle she ultimately chose. Perugorría works wonders with Cuba’s rural landscape, using trees and other natural elements to give simple shots a striking depth of frame.
And Perugorría uses the increasingly bombastic concerts to mirror the thematic thread of the film. In the beginning, while Diamentes is still searching for love and just beginning to explore her Cuban roots, the concerts are eccentric but tame. But as she gains new insights on love and develops newfound respect for her heritage, the concerts become wonderfully excessive. Had the concerts and the themes not meshed, the shows would have simply felt like useless filler.
But Perugorría is hardly perfect. He has a habit of pointlessly lingering on random shots: The editing and production design of some of the dream sequences looks cheaply made. Perugorría makes up for the limited aspect ratio of some black and white scenes by placing an ugly black border around the image. Such technical deficiencies demonstrate a clash between the filmmaker’s vision and the project’s miniscule budget.
Diamentes injects her amateurish performance style with verve: She is the most bearable character present. Her swagger and confidence are particularly evident onstage. And while her showmanship is underwhelming in her initial performances, audiences will be dancing in their seats by the end of the film. Her confidence is infectious offstage as well. In scenes where she interacts with crowds of real lower-class Cubans, she cements her iconic status, and she never comes off as a phony.
Though the film suffers from excesses, technical amateurishness, and cringe-inducing campiness, one can’t help but appreciate Perugorría’s ambition – and his charm. He could have made a simple concert documentary. Instead, he used his film as a soapbox to talk about Cuba, love, and art.
— Anthony Falco