Amor crónico (Chronic Love) is — or attempts to be — many films in one. It’s an adoring musical documentary of flamboyant Cuban-American singer Cucu Diamantes’ 2010 tour of her home island. It’s two ironic, Fellini-esque love stories, one the star-crossed yearning between the towering Diamantes and the short Guarapo (Liosky Clavero), the other a visually lush but satirical ode to present-day Cuba. It’s a tribute to Cuban music and film history. Plus there’s a surreal filmmaking-within-a-film conceit and a critique of the embargo and how politics keep us apart.
This would be as confusing as it sounds if all these strands weren’t so obvious. Amor crónico is best enjoyed on its fabulous surface, for its terrific concert sequences (which include appearances by Cuban treasures like the Muñequitos de Matanzas) and visual jokes (an enormous high-heeled shoe, part of Diamantes’ stage set, hauled across the island by bus and tractor). But the talent behind Amor crónico, the brilliant music producer Andres Levin, co-founder of groundbreaking Cuban-funk group Yerba Buena and Diamantes’ husband; and director/screenwriter Jorge Perrugoría, the actor best known for his star turn in Strawberry and Chocolate, seem to want their movie to be more profound. But they mix in so many clever ideas, none of which they take seriously, that they never really engage us.
Amor crónico opens with Diamantes, in gold heels and yellow dress, paying homage to La Caridad del Cobre, the patron saint and emblem of Cuba, who is also Oshun, the Santería goddess of love whose color is yellow. At the shrine she meets Guarapo (Liosky Clavero), whom she promptly invites on her tour, while he just as promptly falls in love with her. There’s something discomforting about how the short, thick Clavero is played off the slim, towering Diamantes, as an absurd contrast that’s also a crucial impediment to their romance.
Diamantes is Cuba/love, of course; and, in her over-the-top glamour, a deliberately cliché Cuban diva, and the film dwells adoringly on her body and her fabulousness. But though she’s hugely enjoyable in the concert scenes — shimmying down a line of bemused Cuban soldiers, riding a donkey cracking double entendres — her persona is too ironic to carry so much symbolic weight.
Amor crónico is richest in its portrayal of Cuba, deadpan hilarious scenes of crowds gathering in town squares to sing to Diamantes, lush glimpses of the countryside as the band, gigantic shoe in tow, treks from town to town. There’s light but sharp satire of the system, like a beachside restaurant that only serves croquettes and where the utensils are chained to the table. And there are tons of references, appearances, and in-jokes for Cubaphiles, whether musician El Tosco as a flamboyant radio host or the black and white fantasy sequences riffing on classic Cuban films. Best to enjoy Amor crónico not as a long-term relationship, but as an absurd and seductive fling.
Cast: Cucu Diamantes, Andres Levin, Liosky Clavero, Adela Legra.
Writer-director: Jorge Perugorría.
Running time: 83 minutes. No offensive material. In Spanish with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Miami Shores.