Political Film Society - Newsletter #254 - June 15, 2006

June 15, 2006


The Lost CityThe Lost City, directed by Cuban expatriate Andy García, is about a family caught up in the Cuban revolution. When the film begins, an impressively costumed and choreographed musical production is performed on the stage of El Tropico, a Havana nightclub managed and owned by Fico Fellove (played by Andy García). Afterward, men in the affluent family meet together. Ricardo (played by Enrique Murciano) predicts that revolution is inevitable, though the rest of the family is skeptical if not angry at the suggestion. However, the film does little to persuade filmviewers that the regime of Fulgencio Batista (played by a sleazy Juan Fernández) is corrupt or unworthy. If there is any poverty (filming is in the Dominican Republic), corruption, or repression, the film is mostly silent. The massacre of protesting students at Havana University in late 1958 is presented, though again the content of the protest is not revealed. On one occasion, crimelord Meyer Lansky (played by Dustin Hoffman) tries to bully Fico into surrendering control of his nightclub, but the only point of the gratuitous scene appears to be to demonstrate that Fico can stand up to pressure. At one point, brother Luis (played by Nestor Carbonell) participates in an amateurish coup attempt but dies in his plan to restore the democratic constitution, leaving his spouse Aurora (played by Inés Sastre) a widow whom Fico has sworn to take care of in event of his death. At another point, Ricardo joins Castro's forces in the provinces. On January 1, 1959, Batista leaves Cuba, and Castro's revolutionaries march victoriously into Havana on January 9.

Thereafter, Castro's repression is highlighted, including an arrest of a family member, a prohibition on using the saxophone (an instrument invented by someone in imperialistic Belgium, according to the Castroites), the shutdown of Fico's nightclub, and Ricardo's delivery of a message that his uncle's plantation must be surrendered to state ownership. Further tragedy strikes the family when the uncle receives the message by having a fatal heart attack on the spot, the arrest of another family member, Ricardo's suicide, and Aurora becomes a turncoat supporter of the revolution. Fico on one occasion shouts displeasure that the revolution does not involve pluralistic democracy, and Castro declares that elections are unnecessary, since the people have already spoken. Ultimately, Fico flies to exile in New York, where he gets a job as a dishwasher and then later as a pianist at a restaurant. Lansky visits him again to make the same offer, though now to manage a Vegas nightclub. And Aurora drops in on Fico during a trip to New York, where she is a diplomat accredited to Cuba's UN delegation. The meeting is one of several instances in which family loyalty trumps political opinions. A title at the end indicates that Fico opened his own nightclub in New York eighteen months later. Since the film is serious in content, two elements seek to lighten the viewing. One is the music, which is marred by poor sound quality. The second is the strange role of a presumed writer (played by Bill Murray), who tries to tell irrelevant jokes, presumably as comic relief. The film is based on a novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who supported the revolution at first but defected in 1965. García evidently knew Cabrera Infante, who died in 2005, and thus drew upon considerable personal passion in making the movie, which appears to be a variation on the familiar plot of Casablanca (1942). Since the film suggests that García is oblivious to any social injustices except for the loss of privileges on the part of the rich in pre-Castro Cuba, The Lost City is far less profound about Castro's violations of human rights than the awardwinning Before Night Falls (2000). MH