Lost city… and opportunity

The Lost City was a labour of love for Andy Garcia but offers a strangely disconnected and predictably loaded vision of Cuban political history


The Lost City
Andy Garcia
2005, Crescent Drive/CineSon/Lions Gate/Platinum Equity
144 minutes (English)

LATAMROB rating: *

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

IT MAY HAVE been poetic justice that the curtain came down for Guillermo Cabrera Infante, to whom the screenplay of The Lost City is credited, in the year the curtain went up for this film directed by and starring Andy Garcia.

Once a supporter of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary regime, Cabrera Infante grew disillusioned and went into exile, but although his distaste for the Batista regime never waned, Garcia has singularly failed to recreate the sense of time and place that the Cuban author was uniquely sensitive to.

That The Lost City was filmed in the Dominican Republic only adds to the strangely disconnected yet predictably loaded vision of the Cuban bourgeoisie’s travails at the hands of their political leaders that Garcia has brought to the screen.

His protagonist, a nightclub owner whom one cannot help comparing constantly with Bogart in Casablanca, is wooden to the point of being a potential raft that a dozen marieles could use to escape to the Florida coast. Garcia plays Fico, a club owner in Havana in the late 1950s whose country seems to be changing faster than he can pour himself another glass of rum.

An apolitical aficionado of entertainment, Fico struggles to understand the passion and commitment of his brothers Ricardo (Enrique Murciano) and Luis (Nestor Carbonell), who become embroiled in radical groups intent on ridding the country of Batista (Juan Fernández). Luis dies following a failed attempt to kill the Cuban dictator and Ricardo ends up becoming a trusted lieutenant of Castro.

Fico begins dating the widow of Luis, played by Inés Sastre, and a tale of frustrated love unfolds mid-plot as she becomes seduced by the revolution and its leaders and he decides to flee to the US to rebuild his family’s hopes.

Bevy of big names

If cinematically striking at times, and wheeling out a bevy of big names – from Bill Murray as an American comedian to Dustin Hoffman, bizarrely, as the mafioso Meyer Lansky – The Lost City remains a lost opportunity, even though Garcia took nearly 20 years to bring his vision of Cuba to the screen.

There is clearly room for a rational exploration of the misgivings felt by the Cuban bourgeoisie about both Batista and thereafter Castro, but sadly this is not it. Garcia wants to create something that is both apolitical and political, then takes sides by rolling out a Miami version of Che Guevara with a crude portrayal of the guerrilla as a mono-dimensional brute.

When examining political cameos, context is all-important and the performance of Elizabeth Peña as a petty bureaucrat in uniform banning Fico’s use of the saxophone – as an instrument of imperialism – embodies the malaise, choosing one symbol in an entire episode about symbols of the US presence in Cuba to bang a simple drum.

The nightclubs that Fico and his ilk populated were prima facie symbols of that presence – hence Lansky’s persistent interest in controlling them, and Castro’s in shutting them down.

Eugene Carey is a freelance journalist

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