The Lost City
Andy Garcia was born in Havana in 1956 and fled to Florida with his affluent family in 1961 after Fidel Castro came to power. For nearly 20 years he has wanted to direct and star in a fictional account of his family’s experiences in those years of 1958-1961, and he has finally succeeded with The Lost City.
He evokes the Havana of 1958 every bit as effectively as Francis Ford Coppola captured the last days of dictator Fulgencio Batista in The Godfather Part II--the pastel architecture, the near-naked women, the intoxicating drumming, the ceiling fans halfheartedly slicing through the humidity. Emmanuel Kadosh’s cinematography is a hypnotic tableau of shadows and lamps, crumbling stucco and art deco clubs, fabulous hats and tight dresses, bloodied prisoners and hip-swiveling dancers. And everything is put in motion by the best Cuban music of the period.
The crucial difference is that the music, costumes, and cinematography are all used to amplify the emotions of the characters in Coppola’s movie, whereas Garcia’s atmosphere exists for its own sake. His characters have no emotions to amplify. Yes, the people in The Lost City cry and grimace when their loved ones are threatened, jailed, or killed, but the tears and winces register as little but more elegant set design.
Garcia plays Fico Fellove, the oldest of three sons of a professor in a well-to-do family. Fico owns the El Tropico, one of those improbable movie nightclubs where the musicians, dancers, and waiters outnumber the paying customers. Fico agrees with his father (Tomas Milian) that they should work for gradual reform to replace Batista with democracy; the youngest brother, Ricardo (Enrique Murciano), responds with some stilted speechifying and rushes off to join Castro’s guerrilla fighters. The middle brother, Luis (Nestor Carbonell), grows impatient as well and joins rebels who oppose both Batista and Castro. He dies in an ill-fated coup attempt at the presidential palace.
So it’s left to the stoic Fico to keep the nightclub going, to comfort his grieving parents, and to console Luis’ widow, Aurora (the stunning Inés Sastre). Unfortunately, Garcia’s protagonist is far too stoic; no emotion escapes his handsome mask of a face. Sastre is also more of a model than an actress, and the would-be lovers are more adept at wearing fabulous fashions than in expressing passion. Cars’ animated automobiles resemble real human beings more than these mannequins.
Garcia spares no effort to duplicate the Godfather movies. He has his own Jewish gangster (Dustin Hoffman as Meyer Lansky), his own brother who betrays the family, even his own death of an old man in a garden. But unlike Coppola, Garcia doesn’t have believable characters. And unlike Michael Corleone, Fico fails to foresee victory--maybe because the masses of the Cuban poor are as invisible in his life as they are in this movie.