Sunday, March 25, 2007

Attacking our own

Some people simply get a kick out of attacking their own. Recently I became embroiled in a debate about Andy Garcia's film, The Lost City. The people I was debating (they are themselves Cubans) made certain claims about the film that were either just untrue or incredible.

Such claims include the allegation that the film gives castro and his 26th of July movement credit for the attack on Fulgencio Batista's presidential palace. They make this claim despite the fact there is a key scene in which the character that is going to carry out the attack (Luis Fellove) tells the main character (Fico Fellove) that he's part of the Directorio Revolucionario (another Revolutionary group) and denounces castro.

Another claim is that the story is not recognizable as any work by Guillermo Cabrera Infante which is one of the big selling points of the film. Problem is that Cabrera Infante actually wrote screenplay.

The other big complaint was that the movie wasn't explicit enough in many respects. They went so far as to say that the movie was pro-fidel because it didn't depict all of the crimes of fidel the way wanted to see them on the screen.

When I defended the movie by saying that it was allegorical and that there is a layered subtlety to it, my position was, of course, attacked.

Some more claims these bashers make include the allegation that the majority of Cubans and non-Cubans who have seen the movie were either disappointed or disgusted, etc. etc. A quick look at IMDB.com shows the movie is rated 7.0 stars out of 10 with 2661 votes. While that doesn't sound so hot, it's not bad considering the fact the subject matter is going to be polarizing because so many people are apologists for fidel castro. The largest group of voters gave it 10 stars (32% of the voters). By contrast the film "Dial M for Murder" by the master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock gets 8.0 stars with 16.6% giving it 10 stars.

I also went to Amazon where the movie has been rated 4 stars out of 5 by Amazon users. While I was there I noticed this review which eloquently express my thoughts on the movie.

I might have given this just 2 stars if I'd only watched it once. Having had my husband come and become interested in the film, on starting over and completing a second viewing (and with the help of the DVD extras), "The Lost City" improved to a 4.

(My husband, while considering it "a good film," rates "The Lost City" 3 stars because he feels doesn't show the complicity of Cuban aristocrats with Batista sufficiently.)

The first time, I was was befuddled by the appearance of Dustin Hoffman (as Meyer Lansky?!) and Bill Murray (as a rather curious nameless writer).

On second viewing, the strengths of the movie grabbed me -- the disparate fates of the three brothers, the point that love doesn't always transfer neatly a la Hollywood scriptwriting, the lushness of the El Tropico dance scenes, the purity of nightclubs without gambling, the gorgeous arc that could have been Cuba's democratic future quashed by Castro.

The film's quirks came to seem winning, almost brilliant, such as the Murray/Hoffman appearances and the background music often at odds in mood to the events unfolding on the screen. It's really a film in some ways echoes the quality and director's vision (vs. rigid Hollywood formulae) of the auteur films of the 1960s.

I agree with others that Andy Garcia shows a new nuance to his acting here, and a Mel Gibson-"The Passion" bravery in taking on a project close to his heart but not favored by Hollywood.

The film's problem is kind of simple -- as others point out -- it's a little tricky to follow who is who. (Which man is before us now? Fico's brother? brother-in-law? brother-in-law with new Fidel-style revolutionary beard? Che? And Captain Castel, beautiful in a nightclub, and later unrecognizable after a beating.)

Yet viewers patient with these obstacles will be well-rewarded by "The Lost City." By repeated rituals such as at the civilized family dinner at a long table (the father: "We are not a moveable feast. We eat at 6 p.m., and not a moment later"). Toward the end of the film, fewer and fewer family members survive as Fico moves to kiss them before seating himself, and the resulting imagery is poignant, powerful and sad.

Toward the end, we note the stunning cruelty of the death of Castel by those revolutionaries he had the decency to help based on personal ties.

Once you learn that that Garcia's love interest is an allegory for Cuba herself, her behavior becomes clear and logical. Once you learn Bill Murray's character represents the author of the screenplay, a puckish commentator on the action swirling around, his appearances make good sense. Then this becomes not just a beautiful film, sumptuous even, that could serve as a travel poster for the Dominican Republic or for the beauty of Cuban arts, but a lovely story and a work whose vision lingers after viewing.
I was reassured that if this woman could "get it" that others could too. Her take on the film is almost the same as the argument I made to the haters. By the way my review of the movie, which I wrote in June of last year is one of the spotlight reviews for the film on Amazon.

I finally realized what the problem was. Not the movie, but the people that were trashing it. They proved that it's a hell of a lot easier to trash something than to create something. And there's no greater example of that than fidel himself.

Some more stuff I've written about The Lost City is available by clicking here, here, and here.

Songuacassal's take on the movie is here.

4 comments:

Fantomas said...

Henry le doy credito a Andy por haber hecho el film..

Pero te hablo de corazon ahora, I rented the movie y lo apague 15 minutes into it...

Desde un principio tuve la impresion que no me gustaria, no se por que pense en eso?

No lo puedo ni criticar ni avalar porque en realidad no lo he visto completo..

Algun dia quizas le de otra oportunidad...

God bless Andy for his effort and dedication.... Me dicen que la musica del movie es muy buena ..

No la he oido...

Para el proximo movie le doy un tip a Andy...

Que haga una pelicula de los heroes cubanos que lucharon con fidel PERO NO ERAN COMUNISTAS ya que fueron traicionados como Huber Matos, Feliz Pena, Frank Pais, Jose Antonio Echeverria, ( lider del Directorio)y posiblemente Camilo Cienfuegos, cada vez que aprendo mas de ese movimiento me emociono..( mira el video que tengo en mi blog de J A Echeverria). Lamentablemente el 99 porciento de los cubanos en Cuba no saben la verdad y es ahi que ENTRAMOS NOSOTROS. En cuba todo el mundo cree que Frank Pais y J A Echeverria son heroes de la revolucion cubana.... BIG LIE....

y como esos casos muchos mas...Trabajemos para desenmascarar a estos Talibanes caribeños... Apunta Andy Garcia

Henry Gomez said...

Everyone is of course entitled to like or not like the movie. That's not my point. Everybody has ideas for what Andy "should have done" but then it would not be his movie.

I'm sorry that you didn't want to watch it. Others claim they watched it but obviously didn't and the parts they saw they didn't see.

Songuacassal said...

How does the Latin saying go?

De gustibus non est disputandum.

There is no disputing taste, and so I don't think every Cuban has to, nor should, like the movie. I know many were expecting a political discourse, and were disappointed to find a story about a night club owner who lost his family, his love, and his homeland to castro.

I personally applaud Garcia for doing it this way, because more than politics and more than Bastista/fidel dynamics, what happened in Cuba was the fracaso that decent upstanding people went through as they were sucked into this hellish revolution and spit out 90 miles away from home.

Nevertheless, it does sadden me that those Cuban-Americans who did not like the movie feel compelled to trash their fellow Cuban, Andy Garcia, his vision, and his creation. No, not everone has to like the movie, but as Abraham Lincoln said (quoting from the Bible): A house divided cannot stand.

I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons why fidel has stayed in power for so long is because there are so many who remain divided and prefer attacking their own rather than banding together first and attacking the common problem.

Val Prieto said...

I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons why fidel has stayed in power for so long is because there are so many who remain divided and prefer attacking their own rather than banding together first and attacking the common problem.

Fifty years of pain and anguish in a nutshell, Songa. You hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head.