Judge Rafael Gamboa thinks that anyone who actually loses a whole city is just plain careless.
A place you leave is a place that lives forever.
I can't stress how much I wish I could love this film. The Lost City is actor and first-time director Andy Garcia's brainchild, a tragic requiem for an impossible dream and a long lost past. But despite sixteen years (!) of hard work, the film falls depressingly flat, and I'm not really sure I can say exactly why.
Facts of the Case
The film is about Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia, The Godfather Part III), a cabaret owner who struggles to keep his business and his family from crumbling under the pressure of socialist revolution. There's a love interest, Aurora (Inés Sastre, Volpone), a gangster (Dustin Hoffman, I Heart Huckabees), and a nameless American comedian who dryly observes the entire affair (Bill Murray, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).
The film has one and a half major flaws. The integer flaw is the result of the American tendency to use a lot of music in films combined with Andy Garcia's fetish for Cuban music: the first scene that does not have music permeating every heartbeat occurs 54 minutes into the film. That's nearly an hour of non-stop music!! I suppose it's preferable to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, in which the music never even pauses to breathe, but it is still unbelievably self-indulgent and torturous for the rest of us who just want to watch a freakin' movie, not a two-hour Celia Cruz special.
The half a flaw is a bit perplexing, and it has to do with the writing. Supposedly, one man (Guillermo Cabrera Infante) was responsible for the script, which was originally a 300-page beast that was slimmed down through the decade and a half it was collecting dust on Andy Garcia's desk. But the dialogue reads like the work of a schizophrenic amateur intellectual: one side is witty and charismatic in a droll sort of way, the other is a complete moron with delusions of grandeur. Observe people's Exhibit A:
Comedian: "Comrade Aurora has been named Widow of the Revolution of the Year…now, does that mean she was formerly married to the revolution, but now the aforementioned revolution is dead? And did that happen this year too?"
Not too bad. This sort of understated humor, mostly from Bill Murray's character, is pervasive, and elicits a chuckle here and there. This side of the writer also offers several musing and insightful lines of genuine intelligence. However, observe the people's Exhibit B:
Fico: "Why are you so unhappy?"
fdashgjbsjhvlkgsgkklb. That was my head hitting the keyboard after my brain rocketed out of my skull to save itself from this asininity. Please forgive me if the quality of my writing decreases, as I now have to rely on my spinal column and a beta version of organic DOS to organize my thoughts.
Another peeve I have with the writing is that Che Guevara was maligned and painted as a bloodthirsty and soulless demon, which is entirely untrue. He wasn't a boy scout, but he wasn't the Big Bad Wolf, either.
But aside from that, the film doesn't have anything wrong with it. The acting is solid, suffering only from being periodically forced to read some fascinatingly hideous lines. Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman are both spectacular and bring freshness to the screen whenever things start feeling dull. The cinematography is neat and tidy, never stepping on any graphical land mines but at the same time never doing anything remarkable. Same goes for the editing. Actually, some interesting contrasts are created through crosscutting; for instance, rebels storming the presidential palace juxtaposed with a dance number, and similar techniques.
So what's the real problem? I'm not sure. All I know is that this film is supposed to make me feel intensely connected to this lost Cuba, to the Fellove family, and to the culture that managed to nurture a patriotic love in an actor/director who left the country when he was only five years old, but I felt nothing. It got better as it neared the end (and I don't mean that sarcastically), but I only experienced a faint glimmer of lament for the family, and that was more because of the inherent tragedy in the story than its execution or delivery.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is for that reason that the special features are a bit depressing. A very good Making-Of featurette focuses so much on all the work that went into this project throughout the years and Andy Garcia's passionate motivations that it makes me feel bad that I didn't like the movie. This guy cared about it, and cared about it deeply, something you rarely ever see in the film industry. That should count for something!
The rest of the content is shrug worthy. The deleted scenes are pretty much worthless. The only value I found in them was that they were short and all save one were free of music, which is more silence than can be found in the entire 144 minutes of the final cut. The DVD also comes with a commentary track (by Garcia, actor Nestor Carbonell, and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski), a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, cast and crew notes that read as mini-interviews, a movie poster made by Garcia's daughter, and a tangential note on the people who made the Fellove cigars.
Those sixteen years of effort couldn't save The Lost City from coming across as a bland made-for-TV movie with the payroll to afford a few big name actors. It's sad, but it's true: this film is as memorable as a high school dance with an indifferent date, and just as enjoyable.
Rent it, if you must. Otherwise, the court relegates The Lost City to periodic screenings on Bravo and USA.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
• The Making of The Lost City
Review content copyright © 2006 Rafael Gamboa; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.