Leon Ichaso's Bitter Sugar is the story of a bright young Cuban (One Life To Live hunk René Lavan) whose idealistic loyalty to the Revolution is rewarded by an aeronautical-engineering scholarship at the University of Prague. Almost simultaneously, he falls in love with a beautiful young woman who assures him that nothing will ever come between them. Lavan has an awful lot to lose at the beginning of this story, and, not surprisingly, he gradually comes to realize that everything he believes in is a lie, and that everyone he loves is trapped in a dying culture, each in his or her own unique way. The appeal of Bitter Sugar lies partly in the number of compelling stories it tells—none of the principal characters is ever reduced to a type, and each story is fully realized enough to generously fill a typical Hollywood social drama on its own. The cumulative effect is one of an entire society full of vital yet paralyzed people, a world even more tragic than the sum of its tragedies. Perhaps most affecting is the story of Lavan's brother (Larry Villaneuva), who is driven to shockingly extreme levels of protest after the authorities rob him of his music and his dignity. Villaneuva, who follows the motto "Socialism Or Death" to an absurdly logical conclusion, is ironically, but appropriately, the most vibrant character in Bitter Sugar. It's admirable whenever someone creates a politically charged movie that appeals to the heart. Ichaso, with his trained focus on character development, imagery and human expression—rather than blunt messages, morals, or even recognizable faces—has achieved this rare feat.

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