The Lost City
When most of us look back on the city we grew up in we may notice some differences over the years. Neighborhoods changes, businesses open and close but here in the States the fundamental aspects tend to remain the same. This is not the case for the people of Havana, Cuba. There is a defined line of demarcation between the city that was and the one that stands today. The reason of course was the rebellion and rise to power of Castro. Actor Andy Garcia was born in Havana at the very cusp of the change, 1956 and the film ‘The Lost City’ is his homage to the city of his birth at the moment the change began.
Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia) is the eldest of three sons. Their father is a well respected professor but Fico’s interests are more in the social aspects of life. He runs a popular night club in Havana, the El Tropico. Life is good for Fico. His club makes him a local celebrity, every night is a formal wear party and he is involved with a beautiful woman, Leonela (Lorena Feijóo), a dancer in his club. When the communist revolution begins Fico’s two brothers, Luis (Nestor Carbonell) and Ricardo (Enrique Murciano) embrace the change but for Fico he fears that this will mean the end to life as he has come to know it. After all the communist philosophy is not consistent with the upper level society types that make up Fico’s best clientele. Fico is not only caught between the factions of the conflict but finds himself as the family peacekeeper when his family begins to take opposite sides of the revolution. This is apparent at the weekly family dinner, six o’clock on Sunday, exactly by orders of their mother Dona Cecelia (Millie Perkins). His father, Federico Fellove (Tomas Milian) supports Batista (Juan Fernandez), the current head of the government and opposes his younger sons’ support of the rebels. Luis is an outspoken supported of Che Guevara (Jsu Garcia) and the insurrection that he professes. Ricardo begins to act very strangely. He disappears often for days at a time. His wife Aurora (Ines Sastre) is certain that another woman is to blame but actually Ricardo is working for the rebels. This eventually results in Ricardo’s death with devastates the family. When Batista flees Cuba the communists take power and begin to force communism on the people. When the new government seizes Fico’s tobacco plantation when turns to his uncle Donoso (Richard Bradford) for advice. His uncle usually consuls a wait and see policy. Political leaders come and go but life goes on. But just when Fico needs him the most the old man succumbs to a heart attack. Fico realizes that his life in Cuba is no longer viable and plans to flee the country, a decision fully supported by his parents. He implores his sister in law Aurora to come with him to New York City but she wants to remain a faithful supporter of the revolution. Fico finds himself cut off from everything that defined him, his club, his family and his wealth.
The film is obviously a labor of love for Andy Garcia. He reportedly spent over sixteen years trying to get the financing for the project. The original screenplay was well over three hundred pages, finally cut down to a far more manageable 120 by shooting time. The problem is Garcia was too close to the work and perhaps could not be completely objective in the editing room. Coming in at over two hours and twenty minutes some cuts would have helped preserve the narrative. What the film does have working for it is the sound track. The pulsating Cuba rhythms carry the audience back to a far different time. Back then the night club was much different than people know today. Those that went to the clubs dressed in formal wear, each night was an event. Some characters seem to have been added just so a big name or two could be cast. Bill Murray plays an unnamed American writer who conveniently appears when ever the story becomes too heavy and offers a bit of comic relief. There is also Dustin Hoffman as mobster Meyer Lansky who provides some tie in for the audience to the second installment of the Godfather. While both actors are displayed on the DVD box art they are not that central to the story line. In some ways there are notable similarities to Casablanca with Fico as a Latin Rick. Like Rick Fico wants to remain neutral but is swept up with the political and social struggle that surrounds him.
I have been a fan of Andy Garcia for many years now. There is something about his laid back attitude that just draws in the audience. This works very well in his role as Fico, a man that just wants things to stay the same. His performance here is very good and he maintains an excellent chemistry with the rest of the cast. He was only five and a half when his family came to America so he was too young to have witnessed the events that drive the story personally. As such there is a bit of glorification for the old Havana present here. It seems that he is presenting Havana the way others remember it. As a director Garcia appears to be more concerned with the technical aspects of his cast than allowing them to delve deeper into their characters. Nestor Carbonell displays a lot of passion in his part as a budding revolutionary. He helps the audience to understand just a little about why the revolution was appealing to so many in Cuba. Ines Sastre does a great job as the female lead for the film. She can sell the character arc for Aurora to the audience. The difficulty in her role was the transformation from dutiful wife to becoming involved with her brother in law after the death of her husband. She avoids a new relationship by embracing the passion her husband held even though it was this involvement that lead to his death.
Magnolia Home Entertainment has become one of my favorite studios. The produce DVDs of films that many people may not even be aware of. No matter what the subject they always release something novel and interesting. Most of their releases are films that depend on good old fashion talent instead of cutting edge computer effects. With this film the transfer is excellent. The 1.78:1 anamorphic video is brilliant. The club scenes are vibrant, the colors and contrast completely realistic. The Dolby 5.1 audio fills the room especially when the Latin beat of the soundtrack kicks in. The sub woofer pounds the beat while the rear speakers bring you into the club. There is a commentary track by Garcia where he details the arduous 16 year struggle to get this film made. There is also a making of featurette that shows how the Dominican Republic locations where used to recreated Cuba in the fifties. Rounding things out are some deleted scenes. Although flawed this film is certainly up to providing an enjoyable time.