Times Staff Writer

Starting Friday, the Fox International in Venice will present New Cuban Cinema, a lively offering of eight films, most of them unfamiliar. The sparkling social comedy “House for Swap” will play for one week, accompanied by a series of three different features. Then, on April 5, Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s latest film, “Up to a Certain Point,” will play for a week, along with a series of three of his earlier films.

One of Cuba’s major directors, best known for the reflective “Memories of Underdevelopment,” Alea contributed the idea for “House for Swap.” It enjoyed a long run as a play but has been so fully realized as a film by writer-director Juan Carlos Tabio and his colleagues that its theatrical roots are undiscernible.

The only holdover from the cast of the stage version is Rosita Fornes, a well-known nightclub singer. She plays a vivacious, attractively middle-aged seamstress with masses of auburn curls who’s intent on moving her pretty daughter (Isabel Santos), a university student studying architecture, from their spacious but crumbling old home to a better neighborhood so she won’t fall prey to the local layabouts. Fornes manages to swap the house for a very nice (but very small) apartment; Santos meets a handsome, ambitious fellow (Ramoncito Veloz Jr.), and now Fornes wants to swap her new apartment plus that of Veloz’s (to whom her daughter quickly becomes engaged) for a really nice house in the suburbs.

But Fornes’ swapping scheme becomes increasingly elaborate, involving more and more people and more and more homes--and more and more chances for snags. And now Santos, whose goal is to be an urban planner, finds herself falling out of love with the shallow Veloz and in love with an older man, a civil engineer (Mario Balmaseda, one of Cuba’s top stars). Not only do their professions overlap but they are also similarly socially conscious individuals. At one point Santos remarks of Balmaseda, “It’s good to know people who think of others.”


“House for Swap’s” abundant humor, some of it quite dark indeed, and its full range of emotions emerge from its tight, inspired structure: The more Fornes schemes in total self-absorption, the more Santos and Balmaseda are thrown together. The result is a film as much fun as it is thoughtful.

This and other films in the series depict a totally racially integrated society. That Balmaseda is black, or perhaps a mulatto, is of no apparent consequence, any more than the full range of skin colors is in Manuel Octavio Gomez’s exuberant musical “Patakin” (Friday and Saturday). Inspired by African mythology, “Patakin” owes more to MGM than Karl Marx and is in fact a broadside against the petty bureaucratic mentality--and even machismo . It opens with a musical number in which farm workers sing and dance in a paean to the joys of labor; only later do we realize that the whole thing is a spoof. Its lazy, self-loving hero is played by the dynamic and good-humored Miguel Benavides. “Patakin” may prove to be the most infectious film of the bunch.

Playing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday is Humberto Solas’ sweepingly romantic “Amada,” set in Havana during World War I and dealing with an aristocratic beauty (Eslinda Nunez) who gradually comes into conflict with the rigid rules of her proscribed world. But even more than in similar Visconti films, its desperate heroine’s plight reverberates with social and political implications. This film is heady stuff, but it’s controlled carefully by Solas, director of the superb trilogy on the Cuban woman, “Lucia” (in which Nunez, incidentally, appears in the second part).

Pastor Vega’s fine, intimate “Habanera” (Wednesday and next Thursday) stars his wife Daisy Granados (they’re best known for the wry, funny feminist film “Portrait of Teresa”). This time Granados is a mature psychiatrist with striking looks who discovers that the man in the life of one of her patients is none other than her own husband.


All three films are Times-rated Mature for adult themes. Information: 396-4215.