Last night’s late night Netflick took me to Cuba, where Roberto, who left as a child, had returned to try and find his mother Carmen. The movie juxtaposed black and white footage of boats fleeing the country with the scene of his arrival in Havana, passing by the Fidel billboards and 1950s cars, and dozens of hitchhikers trying to get a lift.
He meets up with his long-lost cousin, and with a friendly taxi driver they begin a quest that turns into a hellish slog. Their only evidence of where Carmen is now living is a tattered card that shows the ornate gate of a house where she once lived. Antonio the good-heared cabbie can’t use his modern taxi, instead borrows a junkheap of a car which 50 miles later breaks down, dead by the side of the road. No one will stop and help, and the trio curses the passing cars. Another borrowed vehicle sputters to the side of a road, its owner cursing the lack of spare parts and people to help.
They finally hitch a ride with a flatbed truck and find three bicycles to continue their journey. The old guy huffs and puffs, and the two cousins bicker as the ardous biking takes its toll. At one point Antonio causes a scene when he tries to leave the others and has a public melt down. He hates what Cuba has become, full of desperate people who won’t help him, yet he is neither fully American nor fully Cuban.
Antonio sheepishly admits that he’s stolen money from Roberto, his wife is ill, and like everyone on the island, he’s desperate for money. Yet Roberto forgives him, and is glad to know they all have enough dollars to buy bus tickets to forge ahead. He can’t blame him; everyone in Cuba has a scam and is scraping by.
On foot, they walk on, after Roberto’s bike is stolen with his passport and an entire village sympathizes yet can do nothing. They are ragged, dirty, and as they anticipate a shower and what happens after a kiss, the police burst in and arrest him for not having ID.
But it’s a movie, so we know that beyond all of this hell lies a tearful and joyous reunion. Carmen finds her son as she returns to the family home in a rowboat.