Ernesto (Caleb Casas), the central protagonist of Personal Belongings (Objetos personales), lives out of his rundown car in Cuba and spends his days visiting foreign embassies, exploiting the memory of his dead mother to try to secure a visa to leave the island.
All of that changes, however, when he meets Anita (Heidi Garcia), a young nurse at a local hospital who lives alone in her family’s home after her relatives opted to brave the high seas and hop on a raft to Miami.
In time-honored movie fashion, the couple meets cute. During a medical exam, they begin comparing battle scars of the revolution — her trampled foot during an Elián González march, his burn mark left by a hand torch during a college demonstration — and are suddenly overcome by lust and passion. Neither is necessarily looking for a relationship, but love happens anyway. And the closer they grow, the more complicated Ernesto’s plan to flee the island becomes.
Like every contemporary Cuban film, Personal Belongings uses its characters to explore the reality of life on the island and the unique circumstances and pressures that affect even the most basic everyday decisions. But writer-director Alejandro Brugues, a Buenos Aires native of Cuban-Bolivian descent, fares better with the film’s subtexts than he does with its main storyline.
The shaky performances by the two leads, the melodramatic score that permeates the film and the familiarity of the story’s scenario render Personal Belongings as another in a long line of well-meaning but dull Cuban movies. There is also a last-minute plot twist, intended to be poignant, that sends the film into risible telenovela territory instead.
Worst of all, the film ultimately adopts a mantra — ”No matter how bad things are here, the most important thing is to keep moving forward” — that comes off as revolutionary propaganda, trampling over whatever connection the viewer might have previously made with the characters. Personal Belongings is best left in the junk drawer.
Cast: Caleb Casas, Heidi Garcia, Osvaldo Doimeadios, Roly Pena, Gilda Bello
Writer-director: Alejandro Brugues
Producer: Inti Herrera.
In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Plays at 9:45 p.m. Thursday at Regal South Beach.