The Strawberry Tree: LAFF review

Strawberry Tree - H 2012
An elegantly composed, affectionate but unsentimental portrait of a Cuban fishing village that no longer exists.

With its grainy beauty and casual broaching of the fourth wall, this chronicle of unrushed days and joyful characters is an unconventional nonfiction work.

Traveling around Cuba, Canadian filmmaker Simone Rapisarda Casanova was searching for an idyllic fishing village like those he remembered from his childhood in Sicily. He found such a place on the island country’s northern coast. But the nostalgia that informed his creative impulse gave way to a sharper, more plaintive sense of loss: In 2008, less than a month after Rapisarda Casanova finished filming his impressive first feature, The Strawberry Tree, the town of Juan Antonio was wiped out by Hurricane Ike.

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With its grainy beauty (the director handled the camerawork himself) and casual broaching of the fourth wall, this chronicle of unrushed days and joyful characters is an unconventional nonfiction work, and a strong entry in the Los Angeles Film Festival’s International Showcase.

The opening scene, recorded a year after the main filming ended, is an engaging coda-as-introduction, an informal interview with four of Juan Antonio’s former residents (the village was evacuated before the storm hit). Their warmth, playfulness and wit draw the viewer straight in to their story. In the body of the film, set mostly outdoors and never far from the sea, the villagers often address the director, usually in a teasing manner.

Rapisarda Casanova set out to make a movie that honestly acknowledges not only the filmmaker’s role in the process but the narrative aspect of documentaries. His fixed-camera footage lingers over everyday moments: a woman grinding coffee (and laughing about how uninteresting a screen subject it is), a man using condoms to fix a flat tire; another repairing nets, and extracting a whelk from its intricate shell.

Whether it’s the gentle antics of domestic animals, the unceremonious killing of a goat for food or an elderly woman’s acknowledgment that she’s sick and unwilling to die in a hospital, Rapisarda Casanova frames his material for visual impact, with a clear-eyed sense of proportion. There’s nothing sugarcoated or congratulatory about his depiction of a simple life in sync with nature. From its raunchy wisecracking to its dreamlike underwater sequence, Strawberry Tree is a singular memory piece, and a document created just in time.


Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
An Ibidem Films production
Director/writer/producer/director of photography/editor: Simone Rapisarda Casanova
No MPAA rating, 71 minutes