This stinging comedy of sex and politics in today’s Cuba kicks off the movie year on a high note. At a Havana ice-cream parlor, David (Vladimir Cruz), a political-science student and devoted communist, soothes his sorrows. His girl has just married another man. Diego (Jorge Perrugoria), a gay artist, attempts to lure David to his apartment with the promise of forbidden books. Later, David tells his student pal Miguel (Francisco Gatorno) how he knew the older Diego was gay. “There was chocolate, and he ordered strawberry.”
Working from a short story by Senel Paz, Tomas Gutierrez Alea – who directed with Juan Carlos Tabio – transcends geographical and language barriers to craft a funny and compassionate plea for tolerance that seems ideal for the Newt Gingrich era. David attempts to entrap Diego for his sexuality and his subversive ideas. Instead, David learns to let down his guard. Cruz and Perrugoria bring wit and depth to their performances. But it is Alea, whose 1968 Memories of Underdevelopment remains a seminal moment in Cuban cinema, who makes Strawberry and Chocolate a triumphant success. Alea doesn’t roar against repression in the manner of Kiss of the Spider Woman, he laughs at it. But the villains get theirs just the same.