The setting of Carlos Lechuga’s Cuban drama “Santa & Andrés” is a world away from the bustling Havana so often seen on travel shows. The natural beauty of unruly mountains, endless greenery and coasts outlined by white sand makes the eastern half of Cuba look like a timeless paradise. But what is paradise for some is a political prison for others, and that world is where the movie’s lead characters meet.
In the service of the Cuban government in 1983, Santa (Lola Amores), a country laborer and loyal party member, is assigned to keep a gay anti-Communist writer, Andrés (Eduardo Martinez), under house arrest. The two initially distrust each other — Santa eats in the rain rather than share shelter with an enemy of the people, while Andrés is guarded about his police record and the details of his past. Eventually, the two warm to each other and begin sharing their stories.
The movie’s central relationship is not romantic, but almost feels as if it were. Santa, who’s straight, takes a liking to Andrés and dresses up to visit him and bring him small gifts. Andrés does not reciprocate, teasing her more like a brother. Mr. Lechuga, who also wrote the screenplay, transforms their time together from a form of punishment into a temporary escape from oppression.
The cinematographer Javier Labrador’s hand-held camera focuses on the characters’ smallest gestures as carefully as it captures the rolling land in the background. The effect is as captivating as the odd-couple narrative is engrossing. “Santa & Andrés” begins as a film about separation and pain, but becomes a movie about reconciliation and healing.