The Lost City (2005)

by | Aug 6, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Lost City (2005)

Directed by Andy Garcia
Also starring: Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Inés Sastre
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment 10031
Video: 1.78:1 widescreen color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, also DD 2.0
Subtitles: Spanish
Extras: The Making of The Lost City, Deleted Scenes and Commentary, Behind-the-Scenes photo gallery, Notes from the cast and crew, Audio commentary by Andy Garcia, actor Nestor Carbonell and Production Designer Wldemar Kalinowski
Length: 144 minutes
Rating: ***

Having left Cuba for the U.S. at the age of 5 1/2, Andy Garcia has long been interested in the culture of his birthplace – especially its musical culture. That was the primary stimulus for his effort to make a feature about the Cuban Revolution. The Lost City is based on the writings of exiled Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and Garcia reveals in the making of featurette that it took a 16-year struggle to bring the story to life on the screen.

The story opens in 1958 with a wealth Havana family, Garcia playing Fico – one of the sons who owns the top Havana music nightclub. So there are plenty of opportunities for Cuban music and dance in the film.  The oppressive Batista regime makes life difficult for many, but the family does well enough until two of the other sons become impatient with the situation and  active in revolt against Batista. One joins an ill-fated movement which attacks the Presidential Palace but all are eventually killed. The other joins Fidel Castro’s movement and eventually becomes one of his top cabinet members.

After the brother in the ill-fated revolt dies, Fico begins a serious relationship with his widow Aurora.  She evinces an interest in Castro and eventually becomes a figure in his inner circle, drawing apart her relationship with Fico, who by now is losing his nightclub and planning to flee to the U.S. The revolution has changed everything for him.  It also takes over his uncle’s tobacco plantation, and when the son close to Castro is dispatched to tell his uncle of this it causes the old man a heart attack, killing him.  Fico comes to New York City with no money and has to do menial jobs until he finally works his way up to having his own Cuban nightclub there, but Aurora stays behind as part of Castro’s inner circle.

The film cost about $10 million and was shot mainly in the Dominican Republic, which has landscapes and  buildings similar to those of Havana. This was Andy Garcia’s first directorial job on a feature, and his hope to present exciting Cuban music and dance is fully realized. He tells us he was shooting for “a Casablanca/Dr. Zhivago type of film.”The cinematography and sound are colorful and effective.  It’s useful to be reminded of some of the details about the 1959 Revolution and interesting to see it from Fico’s viewpoint as well as from the others in the film. I came away with a better understanding of the reasons why many of the Cuban exiles left.

However, the film is overlong and one begins to lose patience with Fico for not taking any real action. Not only do the music sequences drag things out, but there are two rather tacked-on characters who seem to be just an opportunity for Garcia to hire his friends Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray.  Hoffman has two short bits harassing Fico as gangster Meyer Lansky (Garcia admits in the featurette that a lengthy bit about how to make a proper egg cream was Hoffman’s idea), and Murray plays an almost metaphorical character called The Writer – an American friend of Fico’s who just hangs around mouthing witty things. Garcia saw the Murray character as a sort of Cuban Groucho Marx; I can’t agree and in fact I don’t recall him ever even smoking a cigar – though they were certainly in plentiful supply all around him. Still, the story of pre-revolutionary Havana and the radical changes that Castro brought about are fascinating and the music is captivating.

 – John Sunier

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