Nº6 2020 (3)

Double repetitions in Memories of Underdevelopment

Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez (Amherst College)

Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Cuba, 1968) is widely considered one of the best films of all time, in part because of its ingenious mixture of documentary and fiction.  Set in Havana between two historically significant moments–the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963–the film explores the Cuban Revolution from multiple points of view, principally Sergio’s (Sergio Corrieri), the protagonist of the fictional narrative.  The audiovisual essay begins with a brief refresher of the film’s mix of documentary and fictional forms, and then proceeds to focus on another strategy, equally important though less studied, which I will call double repetitions, namely the repetition or revisiting of a previous scene from a different point of view.

In his book The Viewer’s Dialectic, in an appendix titled “Memories of Memories…”, Gutiérrez Alea theorized these double repetitions as a way to activate a critical viewing practice:

Now seeing it for a second time, from another perspective, and relating it to a central character about whom we already have sufficient information so as to predict his tragic destiny, the metaphor becomes expanded.  It stretches beyond its original meaning, its direct and contingent one, and it opens up and leads to considerations about the reality within which the protagonist is trapped and which he is incapable of understanding profoundly (Gutiérrez Alea, 1983: 99).

Double repetitions revisit four key moments in the narrative: (1) Sergio’s date with Noemí (Eslinda Núñez) in sequences 1 and 22; (2) Sergio’s farewell to his family at the airport in sequence 2; (3) Sergio’s tape-recorded argument with his wife Laura (Beatriz Ponchera) in sequences 3 and 11; and (4) regular people in the streets of Havana during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in sequences 4 and 30.  In each of these double repetitions, Sergio’s point of view is contrasted with an incompatible point of that same event of view coming from another person.  The result is that as viewers, we have to evaluate these two points of view simultaneously and determine the extent to which each is true within a deeply polarized context.  

The audiovisual essay analyzes several of these double repetitions and concludes by suggesting they help incentivize viewers’ double consciousness.  Double consciousness is a concept originally proposed by W.E. Du Bois in 1903 to refer to the sensation, prevalent among African-Americans at the time, of measuring themselves against European norms.  Since then the concept has evolved and can refer, as in the videoessay, to the practice of inhabiting society from two or more cultures or consciousnesses at the same time.  Taken together as a group, the double repetitions in Memories of Underdevelopment suggest that the truth of the Cuban Revolution in 1968 (when the film was produced and released) “does not reside in one kind of face or the other, nor in the sum of the two, but rather in the confrontation between both those kinds of faces and the main character and what that suggests to the spectator within the general context of the film” (Gutiérrez Alea, 1983: 101). 

The lesson for us today could very well be that the solution to our global crisis, the effects of which are intensified and accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, does not reside in any one of today’s dominant narratives, nor in the sum of those narratives, but rather in their confrontation and in what that confrontation suggests within a context of intense struggles over the needs and rights of individuals, communities, and ecosystems.  Applied to our daily lives, the film’s main lesson for contemporary audiences may be that, rather than reproducing monolithic worldviews that foreclose dialogue and generate violence, we should instead develop double, triple and quadruple consciousnesses to activate intersubjective recognition, from the most intimate between individuals to the most public between communities.   To fully assume a posture of intersubjective recognition over a posture of individual identity, and to act accordingly, is an important step towards creating a world where the cultural, economic, and ideological underdevelopment that is destroying us becomes a distant memory of our collective past.


  • Du Bois, W. E.  [1903] (2001) Las almas del pueblo negro, translated by Miguel Barnet, Rubén Casado y Francisco Cabrera. La Habana: Fundación Fernando Ortiz.
  • Flores, Juan and Jiménez Roman, Míriam (2009) “Triple-Consciousness? Approaches to Afro-Latino Culture in the United States”, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 4(3): 319-328. 
  • Gutiérrez Alea, Tomás (1983) La dialéctica del espectador. México: Federación Editorial Mexicana.
  • Mignolo, Walter (2020) La colonialidad del saber: eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales. Perspectivas latinoamericanas, ed. Edgardo Lander. Buenos Aires: CLACSO.
  • Welang, Nahum (2018) “Triple Consciousness: The Reimagination of Black Female Identities in Contemporary American Culture,” Open Cultural Studies, vol. 2(1): 296-306. 


How to cite this article: Schroeder Rodríguez, P.A. (2020). Double repetitions in Memories of Underdevelopment/La doble repetición en Memorias del subdesarrollo. Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 6(3). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue: