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The Lost City | DVD Review

Cuba’s “political turmoil of the late ’50s…a love story…this is a lot to fit into a 2-1/2 hour film in which you’re also trying to portray the beauty of Cuba’s music and culture.

Nobody will dispute the fact that Cuba is a country rich in culture, from its music, dance, and the arts to its religion, tobacco, and romanticism. To set a film in Havana during the political turmoil of the late ’50s and try to convey every aspect of Cuban life is, needless to say, a monumental task.

The Lost City gives it a valiant effort, though. It is the story of the upper-class Fellove family who, despite their differences of opinion with regards to political ideals, never fails to get together for weekly dinners at 6 o’clock sharp. While they all agree that dictator Fulgencio Batista must go, where they disagree is in the means that should be used to oust him. The father (Tomas Milian, Traffic, Amistad) and oldest son Fico (Andy Garcia, The Godfather Part III, Ocean’s Eleven) believe that the democratic route is the way to go, while the two younger sons, to varying degrees, believe in political revolution. Luis (Nestor Carbonell, TV’s Suddenly Susan) believes in violence as the quickest way to get rid of the regime and Ricardo (Enrique Murciano, TV’s Without a Trace) hooks up with Che Guevara to spearhead Castro’s Marxist revolution. Mixed up in all this is a love story involving Fico and Aurora (Ines Sastre, The Count of Monte Cristo), the widow of one of his brothers. This is a lot to fit into a 2-1/2 hour film in which you’re also trying to portray the beauty of Cuba’s music and dance culture, by way of the Fico-owned nightclub, El Tropico. If all this sounds like “The Godfather of Casablanca”, that’s the idea.

While it’s obvious that The Lost City is director Andy Garcia’s nostalgic ode to his homeland (in fact, it took him 16 years to procure the backing to get this labour of love made), he tries too hard to infuse the film with every aspect of Cuba’s rich cultural history. These nods to the country’s past, particularly the music, serve to overpower the story itself. The sum ends up being less than its parts. The cast provides solid performances – inclulding a memorable cameo from Dustin Hoffman as casino operator and mobster Meyer Lansky and Bill Murray as The Writer, a not-so-subtle nod to the film’s screenwriter, G. Cabrera Infante – but Garcia has trouble integrating everything into a cohesive film. Does he want to tell a love story, the history of mid-twentieth century Cuban politcs, or simply romanticize Havana’s rich culture?

The cultural aspect is what shines the most throughout. The music in particular is very powerful and is used to great effect by Garcia. He intercuts pivotal scenes with song and dance numbers from the nightclub. Indeed, the music is perhaps the most developed character in The Lost City. The scene where Luis is fleeing Batista’s henchmen after a failed assassination attempt is made all the more powerful when set to a fast-paced Latin rhythm. The visuals are stunning (the Dominican Republic served as Cuba in the film) and the music is fantastic, to say the least. Garcia is a talented filmmaker, he just needs to reign in his desire to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

The Lost City‘s 5.1 sound is excellent. Every time there was a club scene, I wanted to get up and dance, which isn’t normally something I like to do, nor is it a pretty sight.

Being that the film is Andy Garcia’s love poem to Cuba, you’d expect there to be quite a few bonus features on the disc. There’s a brief introduction to the film by Garcia himself, in which he explains why he needed to make it. This introduction is a short version of the making-of featurette, which is 37 minutes in which Garcia tells you everything that went into making the movie, including comments on the cast. Of particular interest is why he thought Bill Murray’s character need to be in the film. There are some deleted scenes with optional commentary. One of them, a scene on the tarmac at the airport as Fico is leaving Cuba, was best left on the cutting-room floor, as it would have made the connection to Casablanca even more obvious.

The feature commentary is by Garcia, Carbonell, and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski, and is okay for the technically-inclined, but I found myself bored of it. I would have liked to hear more about the music and culture aspect of Cuban life.

The disc also includes a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and notes from cast and crew, as well as an interesting history of cigar culture in Cuba and a profile of the Dominican tobacco farm that served as one of the sets.

Andy Garcia seems to have tried to include everything he knows about Cuba into The Lost City. This serves to have made the film into a kind of Cliff’s Notes of Cuban history and culture. If that’s what you want to see (and hear), then by all means see this film; it hits that mark with precision. It seems to me, though, with everything that Garcia and Infante tried to include, that The Lost City would have been better suited to a mini-series or weekly television series format. I know that I would watch, if only to bask in the music and culture of it all.

Movie rating – 2

Disc Rating – 3

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