3 stars (out of four)
Throbbing with music, seething with anger and romance, "The Lost City" is a film that breaks your heart, bewilders, alienates and ravishes you by turns.
Director-actor Andy Garcia's movie about Cuba, revolution and exile in the late '50s centers on a Humphrey Bogart-like hero (played by Garcia) whose family is torn apart and who is eventually driven from Castro's Cuba to America. The movie isn't a complete success. It's overlong, sprawling, and it tries to dance to too many beats. But this movie, made with sometimes overwhelming passion and ambition, affects you anyway.
Heavily influenced by the "Godfather" films, "Cabaret" and Federico Fellini, it's a rich cinematic portrayal of the cataclysms, social and personal, that overtook Cuba when dictator Fulgencio Batista (played as a slightly epicene sport by Juan Fernandez) was driven from power, and the rebel regime of Fidel Castro (Gonzalo Menendez) took over.
That fall eventually commenced a flood of exiles that included both Garcia (as a child, with his family) and his "Lost City" scriptwriter, the late novelist G. (Guillermo) Cabrera Infante, author of the modern classic "Three Trapped Tigers." Garcia and Infante, anti-Castro idealists, create a vision of the paradise that unfortunately trades one evil--and one dictator--for another. "The Lost City" (which refers, of course, to Havana) doesn't romanticize the revolution or its rebels the way "The Motorcycle Diaries" partly did. It romanticizes the people they drove out.
We see the events from the vantage of a prominent liberal bourgeois clan, the Felloves: professor/patriarch Federico (Tomas Milian) and wife Cecilia (Millie Perkins), pleasure-loving U ncle Donoso (Richard Bradford) and Federico's three sons, Fico (Garcia), Luis (Nestor Carbonell) and Ricardo (Enrique Murciano).
Luis and Ricardo are revolutionaries. Fico is a cabaret owner (of the Tropicana-like El Tropico), like Bogart's Rick in "Casablanca." And, like Rick, he falls in love with an idealist's wife: his brother Luis' angelically beautiful spouse Aurora (Ines Sastre), who becomes a widow of the revolution after Luis is killed in a raid on Batista's palace.
With all this romance and family turbulence at its center--and the revolution, Castro and Che Guevara (played by amazing look-alike Jsu Garcia) on the edges--"Lost City" tries to re-create the era and enfold it in a dream of hot music and theatricality. If that's too complex and daunting a task, at least it's a brave one.
The film is highly artificial and very movie-conscious. (Ex-movie critic Infante wrote the screenplay for the archetypal 1971 U.S. car-chase thriller "Vanishing Point" as "Guillermo Cain.") It's filled with music and re-creations of the great pop star acts of the period, such as Beny More's--and, for a while there's a "Cabaret"-like master of ceremonies (Tony Plana). There are also some surprising "guest stars." Dustin Hoffman pops up as legendary gangster Meyer Lansky, who wants to bring Fico to Las Vegas. And Bill Murray, in shorts and smirk, is an unnamed, wisecracking American writer, "a standup [comic] who prefers to remain seated," inspired in part by Infante himself.
That love of theatricality, movie stars and music is key to "Lost City's" theme of art over oppression, and Garcia's brooding, hotheaded Fico is the theme's emissary. Fico's cheek is astounding; at one point, he pulls Aurora away from a randy Che at a party also attended by Fidel. Yet he never winds up in the torture chamber; he winds up, of course, on stage.
It has been suggested by a number of critics that "The Lost City" might be a better film at a shorter length--and maybe it would. But one has to admire Garcia's long loyalty to his own ambition and to the words of Infante, who died in February 2005. For better or worse, this exile's dream of art, politics and revolution will not be lost or forgotten.
'The Lost City'
Directed by Andy Garcia; written by G. Cabrera Infante; photographed by Emmanuel Kadosh; edited by Christopher Cibelli; production designed by Waldemar Kalinowski; music by Garcia; produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr., Garcia. A Magnolia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:28. MPAA rating: R (for violence).
Fico Fellove - Andy Garcia
Aurora Fellove - Ines Sastre
Don Federico Fellove - Tomas Milian
The w riter - Bill Murray
Meyer Lansky - Dustin Hoffman
Luis Fellove - Nestor Carbonell
Ricardo Fellove - Enrique MurcianoCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun