Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie Review: The Lost City

As promised, here is a full review of Andy Garcia’s directorial debut The Lost City, opening tomorrow (4/28) in New York, LA, and Miami. This would be a timely opening for the film, if the antique media coverage of events in Cuba were anywhere close to responsible. The BBC reports today that Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque was severely beaten Castro sympathizing thugs. Recently, the Prague Post reported on a Czech diplomat expelled for his interest in Cubans’ human rights. Unfortunately too many in the media have bought into the myth that obscures Castro’s oppression. That is why I have posted several times already championing this film.

The film itself is one of the best I have seen in recent memory. Garcia turns out to be a deft director, capturing the vibrancy of Havana and the turmoil of revolution. As the protagonist, nightclub owner Fico Fellove, he gives a performance of restrained intensity. Garcia heads a first rate cast, including Bill Murray, who is actually funny for change in a dry understated manner, departing from his world-weary Oscar-seeking dramatic roles. He plays “the Writer,” a sardonic character based on the screenwriter, the late G. Cabarera Infante, a celebrated novelist and critic of the Castro regime. Dustin Hoffman chews the scenery effectively in a small but important turn as Meyer Lansky. Other notables in the cast include actress/model Ines Sastre, Enrique Murciano of Without a Trace, and Danny Pino of Cold Case. It certainly sounds like a commercial cast, but Hollywood refuses to embrace a film critical of the Castro mythos.

The Lost City starts during the waning days of the Batista regime, and shows no affection for his authoritarian rule. Garcia’s Fico Fellove, is the middle brother of three. He runs the El Tropico nightclub, and tries to ignore revolutionary politics. Cuba’s music is his mistress. The elder brother, Luis, is an establishment realist in public, but is a secret anti-communist revolutionary. The youngest brother, Ricardo, buys into Castro’s revolutionary propaganda uncritically. When Luis is killed in an attempt to assassinate Battista, and Ricardo joins Che in the countryside, Fellove takes responsibility for the family, eventually falling in love with Luis’ widow, Aurora.

The Lost City pulls no punches in portraying Castro’s revolutionary terror. We are shown Che’s savagery in several scenes: the killing of a helpless wounded government soldier; the needless execution of a decent policemen. There is rationing, and ever-present propaganda. For Fellove, a turning point comes when the musicians’ union commissar banishes saxophones from his club orchestra, because of their imperialist origin.

For Garcia, Cubans before Castro could nearly anything because of the spirit of their music. When Castro silenced the music, he extinguished the soul of the island. Havana, the capitol of Cuban music, became The Lost City.

Garcia, a musician himself, gave exquisite attention to the music, capturing the diversity of Cuba’s musical heritage. Afro-Cuban jazz, and all varieties of Latin dance music flavor the soundtrack, with contributions from great musicians like the legendary Cachao and Justo Almario. The Lost City soundtrack if released, deserves to be a bestseller on its own merits, independent of the film. Combined with strong acting, and an intelligent script, The Lost City is well worth seeking out.