Sunday, January 15, 2017

Four Seasons in Havana: Five Stars

As the new year gets underway, Netflix continues to revolutionize television in many ways, one of the most important being the way it makes available to American viewers (and viewers around the world) television series from other countries and cultures.  In the past months, I've reviewed outstanding examples from Israel (Fauda), France (Marseilles), and Nordic Noir narratives from Denmark and Iceland.   The stories are not only riveting, but when you watch them subtitled (not dubbed) in their original language, you get a chance to increase your international vocabulary over what you learned in high school and college when you weren't paying that much attention.

So I had high expectations when I started watching Four Seasons in Havana - four 90-minute detective stories, rendered in Spanish, made in Cuba and Spain, following the exploits of Lt. Conde - and they were not only met but exceeded. Conde (well played by Cuban actor Jorge Perugorría) is a philosophically minded, hard-bitten but full of heart, existential mid-level detective, wise-cracking one minute, challenging Cuban authority the next, doggedly pursuing the murderer, and always with an eye for a beautiful woman.  He usually succeeds in both quests, but not usually in a way that brings him any lasting satisfaction.

We've seen hard-boiled detectives like Conde - actually, I'd say he was medium-boiled - many times before, but what makes Four Season in Havana different and memorable is that it takes place in Havana.  As is well known, a lot of the culture of Cuba was frozen in the late 1950s, with American cars from that era carefully maintained for decades.  One of the best things Barack Obama did as President was finally lift the American embargo on Cuba, so that snapshot in time is likely to catch up to the present pretty quickly.  This means that Four Seasons in Havana gives us a fascinating glimpse of a Cuba that may soon be gone - and with it, not only antique cars, but old telephones, big desktop computers, more radio than television, and a love of music (such as Creedence Clearwater Revival) that, while still admired in America, has long been old hat.

So in addition to the crime stories being appealing in their own right, we get in Four Seasons in Havana the dividend of the next best thing to an actual visit to Havana, which I now hope more than ever to do myself one day.   Whether you feel that way or not, see the series.


silk noir

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