Memories of Underdevelopment has a scene near its beginning that the Republican senator Marco Rubio might find moving. It dramatizes the values that have helped Rubio rise to the upper ranks of a political party that rewards the most heartless Americans, the GOP.
The scene is set in 1961. It's two years after the Cuban Revolution put Fidel Castro into power. A youngish man named Sergio is standing in Havana's airport watching his parents and wife walk to an airplane that will transport them to Miami. Those characters, like the others boarding the plane, are rich and want nothing to do with Castro's socialist experiment that's committed to depriving them of their property and privileges.
The men are in sharp suits; the women are in fashionable dresses and hats. As they climb the plane steps, one can imagine Rubio sitting in the movie theater, tears welling in his eyes. Here is the reason Rubio is a member of the party that hates poor people. Just look at what poor people did to Cuba's rich—made them leave all of that wealth on a doomed island. It just breaks your heart.
As for the rest of the film, which plays at the Grand Illusion from February 23 to March 1, Rubio would most likely find it dull. Why does Sergio, the son of parents who own a whole apartment tower with a view of the sea, not leave this future shithole? And what's with all of this talk about underdevelopment and the baptism business that exposes the nipples of a young woman? And that visit to Ernest Hemingway's house, with its typewriter and tourists and dead African animals—what the hell?
No film in the history of cinema better captures the curse of the intellectual than Memories of Underdevelopment. Sergio doesn't leave with everyone else because he hates the rich. An intellectual can never side with those who make "callous cash payment" the entire meaning of society. The intellectual strives for a mental freedom that's immeasurable and promises no returns.
The intellectual hates capitalists as much as a worker in a factory does. But this hate does not have the same origin as that of the poor. Historically, the intellectual emerged in the courts of aristocrats and schools of priests. The court and school form the foundations of European enlightenment.
In the film, this fact is represented by Sergio's lovers. As a young man, he dated a very European Hanna—blond hair, German. She left Cuba before the revolution, and he longs for her deeply. After the revolution, he (38 years old) dates a very young woman (16-year-old Elena) who is brown and one of the people. Not long after forcing her into a sexual relationship with him, he dumps her and ruins her life. Elena's parents want him to marry her and make their daughter respectable. But he refuses to do so. She is not his type: She doesn't read books, she knows nothing about modern art, she is common. Sergio wants Hanna, because an intellectual is always a European. Paris is their capital.
There are, of course, non-European intellectual traditions, but the one that shaped Sergio has it roots in precapitalist Europe. Memories of Underdevelopment shows that hatred of money is a weak bond between intellectuals and the working classes.