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Dancing Before the Revolution


The Lost City

Andy Garcia, Inés Sastre, Bill Murray, and Thomas Milian star in a film written by G. Cabrera Infante and directed by Garcia.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

At its best, The Lost City captures the cultural vibrancy and hedonistic fizz of Havana just before the revolution, and the edgy vulnerability of a society on the brink of a major metamorphosis. At its worst, the film, starring and directed by Andy Garcia, keeps getting lost along the way, in a script that seems stilted, a narrative structure with fuzzy GPS, and, most notably, in the earthy beauty of its heroine, Inés Sastre. Yes, she’s lovely to look at, but the camera’s love affair, continued into the editing room, gets almost comical.

Beneath its popping sensory appeal, the film is fascinating partly because of a strong personal connection: Garcia was born in Havana in 1956, but his family was forced into exile in Miami post-Castro. The film’s screenplay was written by another Cuban exile, G. Cabrera Infante, who died in 2005 and whose only previous screenplay work was the psychedelic Wonderwall. The inexperience shows. In the film, Garcia plays Fico Fellove, a cool but take-charge owner of the Havana nightclub El Tropico. Trouble is brewing in his close family unit, as his brothers are lured into the revolutionary cause, one rationalizing his hatred of the Batista regime by saying “patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels.” The real scoundrels, in this story, wear army green.

Overall, the revolution is presented as a bad and now prolonged joke on Cuba, even if the Batista-led regime leading up to it sowed seeds of change. Che Guevara is viewed as a smug, murderous, Machiavellian figure, and the goon-ish oppression of the communists is summed up by a woman who marches into the nightclub and forbids the use of saxophones — an instrument of the Imperialists.

As Fidel announces himself Cuba’s new ruler, the Fellove family is rocked by the change in various ways. But the band mostly plays on, in the escapist womb down at the nightclub. Bill Murray, the droll comic relief dispenser, is a mysterious writer character spewing puns and wisecracks (“I’m a stand-up comic who prefers to sit down … maybe he’s abroad. Maybe he is a broad …”).

Garcia’s genuinely good intentions and shining moments keep the film on a steady keel of intrigue, yet one’s ultimate impression of the film may be as a bit of a muddle, but also an interesting place to hang out for two-plus hours. The visual surfaces are beautiful, and Garcia — a passionate music fan and musician, whose previous film was a documentary on the legendary Cuban bassist Cachao — keeps Cuban music and dance pumping in the margins. In a way, Garcia’s film is a lament for the lost musical and human pulse of his native country.



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