Tomas Gutierrez Alea (1928-1996) is probably the most famous filmmaker Cuba has ever had. In the beginning, he was mostly influenced by Italian neorealism, later the influences of Luis Bunuel were evident, and he was one of the founders of the Institute of Art and Film there after the Cuban Revolution. After mostly making films about the Cuban revolution in the fifties and sixties, in the later stages of his career he devoted himself to historical themes and to researching Cuban colonial history. “La ultima cena” or “The Last Supper” is perhaps the most famous and the best example of his creativity from that phase, and it is here that it is obvious how much influence Bunuel had on him, especially his “Viridana”.
The action of the film takes place at the very end of the 18th century, during the time when Cuba was still a Spanish colony, on a plantation located in the location where Havana later grew. It was a time when slave ownership was at its peak, and Cuba was one of the main places for sugar cane production. On the eve of the greatest Christian holiday of Easter, the plantation owner and count (the Chilean Nelson Villagra ended up in exile in Cuba after a coup d’état in his country a year earlier), decided to recreate the biblical last supper using 12 slaves who were forced to work on his plantation. The arrogant slave owner wants to show how good and kind-hearted he really is, a true and great Christian who not only wants to feed and water his slaves well, but also to teach them Christian values.
And indeed, on Maundy Thursday, he will gather twelve of them at the table with a pig on a spit and plenty of wine, and after the master has anointed himself, he will promise the slaves not only that they will have a day off for Maundy Friday, but also that one of them will rid. Of course, when he sobers up the next day, he will forget all that he promised, and this will lead to a slave revolt, and then a brutal and cruel reprisal from the slave owners. “La ultima cena” can also be seen as an interesting allegory, a parable, and this whole story can be interpreted from the perspective of the Cuban revolution and the communist teachings in accordance with which Gutierrez Alea created. The count thus represents the Western, capitalist world, which is convinced that it is fair and just, superior to socialism, but when these slaves who represent socialism unite and rebel, the old order is not written well.
It is also an allegory of Christianity because the count is a man who thinks he is a good, honest, just, true Christian, considering that these slaves imported from Africa are his property. He doesn’t really see these unfortunate people as people and believes that the biblical teaching about kindness, humility and honesty does not apply to them. He is convinced that he is a higher and more valuable being than black slaves, illiterate people whom he considers primitive and who deserve nothing more than the position they are in because they were predestined for it. He is kind and broad-minded towards them, and they don’t know how to recognize and appreciate it, at least he thinks so, and he is so sure of his safety and carefree that he will get drunk and fall asleep at dinner convinced that no one can do anything to him.