This classic Cuban comedy from 1962 is definitely not what you’d expect, from the opening montage of revolutionary photographs to the animated credits sequence there’s a strange atmosphere that permeates through The Twelve Chairs. In fact, I’d hazard a guess and say that you’ll never see a post revolutionary comedy like it again.
The Twelve Chairs is based on the Russian novel by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov. The book has been filmed several times, in many languages and would probably be more widely known in it’s American incarnation directed by comedy master Mel Brooks in 1970. This Cuban adaptation follows Hipolito Garrigo (Enrique Sanielsteban) as he tries to track down twelve English chairs, one of which has been stuffed with jewels by his dead mother-in law (clue; they’re not in the first chair that he finds).
The main thrust of this film is that Hipolito has been stripped of his wealth following the Cuban revolution, and he must team with his former servant (Reynaldo Miravalles), who now has a much more secure social standing than he does. What makes director Tomas Guitierrez Alea’s film so interesting is the political climate in which the story takes place. What makes it even more fascinating is; that the film is a comedy. This could so easily have become a po-faced drama, but the humour adds a certain amount of energy and innocence to the film, that keeps the viewer interested in what unfolds onscreen.
The Twelve Chairs however isn’t a perfect film. It has dated quite a bit and some of the sound effects are over the top, and sometimes they can detract from the events that are taking place on screen. It’s a small complaint, but one that I feel is quite significant.
If you see one post revolution Cuban comedy this year, make it The Twelve Chairs. While it may not be suited to all tastes, it is an entertaining film that educates the viewer too.
Unfortunately there’s nothing here to compliment the film. A documentary on the film and Cuba’s new found socialism after it’s revolution would have been nice, or a documentary profiling director Tomas Guitierrez Alea would have been nice.