Dir. Enrique Colina. Cuba-Sp-Fre. 2003. 122mins

A strangely populist choice for the normally rarefied atmosphere of Cannes' Critics' Week, Colina's debut, a comic take on life in contemporary Cuba, has already notched up over half a million admissions in its first five weeks of release at home, according to its director, and should work similar wonders in other Latin American markets, despite critical opinions that will in most cases be less than flattering. Suggestions that there is an eventual subversive undertone hiding behind the apparently good-humoured exuberance can be ascertained once in a while, but there is very little here to make the Havana authorities squirm in their seats, pull out their scissors or suspect it of dissident tendencies.

Tomas, a trainee with the national phone company, loses his ramshackle lodgings and all his earthly possessions after a particularly violent hurricane. Left with only the shirt on his back, he is forced to move in with a former girlfriend, a jealous hairdresser who wants him all for herself. He, on the other hand, has no intention of making this a permanent arrangement, certainly not when there are two other women, one a rich photographer, the other a young, over-energetic rocker, who would not mind having a piece of him.

Tomas clings on to his job smarting under the harsh regime of his old-fashioned, embittered and choleric boss, nicknamed 'the Count', who gives him no slack and never lets him forget who runs the show. Tomas' already difficult existence is further complicated by his half-brother, the proverbial black sheep of the family (in this case he is literally black), just released from jail and always dreaming up schemes to get rich overnight.

Excessively long, predictable and formulaic to a fault, the script makes sure each character is allowed his or her sympathetic moments and comical tantrums, guiding them through all the typical situations that will provide a glimpse of life in Havana. The film spins from the city's poorer quarters to its swanky ones, from tourist nightspots to hard rock subterranean joints, offering the peculiar blend of social realism, animism, religious relics and sheer street-smart sense that allow the Cubans to transcend the tough conditions of their economy in high spirits.

Colina's direction makes sure everything is taken lightly and proceeds with brio. Nothing, not even death, is ever taken as more than a minor disturbance. Morality is bent each and every way: the phone company is often ripped off by its staff, black magic is employed to solve romantic quandaries and occasional nudity is used in the most natural, unselfconscious way.

The generation gap is very much in evidence in the film and American subculture, represented not only by its music but also by posters and pop idols, is constantly visible. Listening carefully, one might hear some counter-revolutionary slurs such as an invitation to throw off the chains of established conformity ('liberate'), a degree of disrespect for the monuments of the socialist heroes or the ironical reference in the nickname of the boss and in his demands for total obedience without discussion from his subaltern. However, inserted as they are, these insinuations look good-natured enough and altogether harmless. The picture's title, literally 'between hurricanes', refers not only to the natural phenomena that provide the bookends for the story but also to the easily inflammable tempers of its characters.

Prod co: Audiovisuales Icaic Cuba
Igeldo Komunikazioa, Les Films du Village
Int'l sales:
International Production Group Icaic, Cuba
Mayra Segura
Enrique Colina, Eliseo Altuinaga, Antonio Jose Ponte
Adriano Moreno
Gladys Cambre
Prod des:
Raul Oliva
Jose Luis Cortes
Gabriel Figueroa
Main cast:
Mijail Mulkay, Mario Balmaseda, Indira Valdes, Klara Badiola, Renny Arozarena, Yaima Torres, Raul Pomares