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

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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