Venice Classics 2020: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s ‘The Last Supper’ is a political allegory painted in explicitly religious shades

Posted on September 5, 2020

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Religion makes “slaves” of us. We are asked to silently accept suffering because “God has willed it that way,” and the more we suffer, the greater the chances of being rewarded with a place in heaven.

By the time you read this, the Venice Film Festival will be underway, though not the Classics section, which was screened — due to COVID-related seating-capacity reasons — at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna. One of the most fascinating films in the programme is a restored version of La última cena (The Last Supper), a 1976 Cuban drama by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. It’s a rare creature: a political allegory painted in explicitly religious shades. It’s about a (white) sugar mill owner in eighteenth-century Havana and his (black) slaves. It’s also about the Holy Week, the seven days that lead to Easter Sunday, during which the events seen here are set.

“The Last Supper”, as painted by Leonardo da Vinci, shows Jesus with his 12 apostles: it’s the turbulent moment when the Son of God reveals that one of his apostles will betray him. The most (in)famous filmic appropriation (see video above) of this Biblical event is in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961), where the da Vinci painting is replicated with a bunch of beggars. The man in the place of Jesus is blind, which may be the director’s comment (attack?) on “blind faith”. The sequence ends with a woman flashing the people assembled at the table.

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