HONEY FOR OSHUN (Miel Para Oshun)

(director/writer: Humberto Solas; screenwriters: Sergio Benvenuto/Elia Solas/story by Mr. Solas; cinematographers: Porfirio Enríquez/Tote Trenas; editors: Nelson Rodríguez/Miguel Ángel Santamaría; music: Carlos Alfonso/X. Alfonso ; cast: Jorge Perugorría (Roberto), Isabel Santos (Pilar), Mario Limonta (Antonio), Adela Legrá (Carmen), Saturnino García (Armando Regalado); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Luis Lago; DEJ Productions; 2001-Cuba/Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“However true this family reconciliation story might be to Cubans, as cinema it was heavy going and overwrought with melodramatics at seemingly every road stop.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Humberto Solas (“Cantata of Chile”/”Lucia”) is one of the founding fathers of Cuban cinema, and has directed some noteworthy films in his long career. Unfortunately this over sentimentalized work isn’t one of them. In Honey for Oshun he shoots for a bittersweet realistic historical drama that is driven by finding one’s roots, but it fails to satisfy as entertainment or be convincing in its propaganda aims to show the emotional scars of those who remained or became exiles after the Cuban Revolution.

Strapping Cuban-American Spanish literature professor Roberto (Jorge Perugorría) departs from Miami to locate his mother Carmen (Adela Legrá), who remained in Cuba when he came to America with his father 32 years ago. He never returned because of the promise he made to his father, but since his father’s recent death he feels he can now break that vow. Roberto was raised believing that his mother abandoned the family. He urgently wants to ask her, why did you abandon me?

In Havana, he hooks up with his blonde cousin Pilar (Isabel Santos), a painter who refuses to paint anymore after the authorities criticized her art exhibit as not being positive–now doing only restoration work for very low wages. She tells her cousin that he was misinformed–that his mom didn’t abandon him, but that his father abducted him when she refused to become an exile. Also, that his mom went mad after she lost her son and was committed to a mental hospital. After her release, Pilar’s upper-class family lost touch with the lower-class Carmen and she hasn’t seen his mom for ages.

Together with the good-natured and reliable 60-year-old cab driver Antonio (Mario Limonta), they try to help Roberto find his mother even though they have no idea where she might be. Antonio comes up with a car for the journey that looks like a wreck, but he assures them appearances are deceiving as they take to the road and adventurously travel through the remote parts of the lush island. The running gag is that every car they hire keeps breaking down. These break downs play as a heavy-handed metaphor for the political situation, and are also an excuse to provide some comic relief.

Pilar comes up with a plan to locate his mom, after checking the hospital records. They visit Carmen’s friend from the hospital who is still residing in Havana, an ex-security guard named Armando Regalado, who wells up with tears at the thought of Carmen. He can only mention he received a postcard she sent a long time ago from Camaguez, which houses a school where she worked. Before going there Pilar, who has become religious and follows the advice of a local seer, takes the agnostic Roberto to see the holy woman. In her trance-like vision, where she’s the medium, she assures Roberto that he will reunite with his mother where the waters of the Oshun and Yemaga meet. The nickname for the Oshun River is Honey, therefore the title.

For a little more than two hours we are taken on a sightseeing tour of small towns with names like Varadero, Gibara, and finally Baracoa. The three strangers bond and then all become emotionally overwrought. At one point in a rural village Roberto has an identity crisis crying out in the middle of the town square: “Cuban? American? I’m torn. I’m nothing.” Soon the seemingly well-adjusted Antonio goes into a rant about losing his son in a traffic accident and living with a batty wife and in a shit-hole. Not to be left out of all the despairing, Pilar cries out about being abandoned by a husband and being lonely and hard-pressed economically. Solas works this into his lost identity theme about why on the surface all Cubans seem happy but underneath they are all crying. Antonio states the filmmaker’s theme after eating a greasy snack while stuck on the road: “When you’re starving anything’s delicious.” Which leads to the conclusion that all Cubans have been victims of the revolution, whether exiles or remaining home. The film’s only dramatic conflict seemed to be getting over all those tearful greetings and hugs, the broken down cars, and Roberto’s passionate loss of will to find his mother from time to time.

However true this family reconciliation story might be to Cubans, as cinema it was heavy going and overwrought with melodramatics at seemingly every road stop.

It was shot on digital video, a first for Cuban cinema. It received its North American premier at the 2001 Montreal Film Festival, and was later shown in competition at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 3/5/2004 GRADE: C   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/