Quick! We need to send an emergency cultural mission from the American film industry to Cuba's moviemakers.
It may already be too late. What has just arrived here is a 1966 Cuban film made with all the latest comic American film techniques of 40-odd years ago - speedup shots of running bodies and talking mouths, a bespectacled man hanging from the hands of the town clock, a custard pie-throwing crowd scene, wheezing machines belching smoke and men doing double-takes every time they see a bosom.
"Death of a bureaucrat," directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, is about government red tape, a theme that should be timeless and international. It even has made a serviceable opera, "The Consul." Every day, the creaky workings of bureaucracy turn out new anecdotes for exasperated citizens. It would have been funny to see this set in modern Cuban society.
Dressed in the film fashions of yesteryear, that premise has been made to look ancient and impoverished. Shooting the picture in black-and-white, rather than seeming appropriate for a saga of paper-pushing, contributed to the masquerade of a blatantly new pastiche as an old classic.
The story is about a worker who is, for ceremonial reasons, buried with his work card - which, it turns out, his widow must have if she is to get a pension. A nephew makes the rounds of government offices, trying to get the proper papers to exhume the body and, when he gives up and does that illegally, to bury it again. Thus the sub-theme to the bureaucracy joke is the corpse joke: get more ice, and that sort of thing.
There seems to be no awareness in the filmmakers that digging up the departed is no way to show respect for the past.