Girls with pin-curled hair and twirling dresses mix with men in white dinner jackets, black ties and slicked hair; ice clinks and sweat beads on freshly poured cocktails as an orchestra's horns blare. Havana nights in the 1950s, through Andy Garcia's lens, look and sound like heaven.
The Lost City, however, is not so divine an experience.
Garcia stars, produces and directs this homage to his home country, which he left as a kid in 1961. He's crafted this movie with such faithfulness you can almost inhale the city's smells and feel its heat and humidity.
Despite sunny photography, carefully executed scenes and exquisite imagery, Garcia's epic telling of Cuba on the brink of revolution is too heavy with nostalgia and longing, so much so that it drags mercilessly through nearly two and a half hours. Though the glow of the Havana nightlife is as sparkling as the ocean and a compelling moment in history, the film's central story is dullsville. Garcia plays nightclub owner Fico Fellove, who struggles to keep his closely knit and wealthy family intact while Cuba's government crumbles. Fico's younger brothers are passionately taken in by the call to revolution, while his father and uncle firmly object and cry for democracy. Fico is more of an observer, trying to keep the peace and maintain the status quo, as he makes quiet and dutiful attempts to wield his influence to keep his brothers and friends out of harm.
As director, Garcia's passion for Cuba is not in question. As an actor, however, he brings no fire to the role of Fico, and his passivity makes for a tedious protagonist. And he gets little help from screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante; the plot is loose, the dialogue is watered down and the pace is clunky. Getting through this movie is a chore, made sufferable, just barely, by the beauty of the views, the beats of the sound track and the sophisticated production.
There's elegance and artistry to The Lost City, but the big moments are interspersed with too much downtime. Some scenes, especially the love scenes with co-star Inés Sastre, drag on long enough to dance several mambos. (Albeit, she's so smoking hot that it's easy to see how one would be reluctant to yell "cut.")
The most gripping drama comes by way of the half-minute here and there of archival footage, where we see a young Castro, streets of protesters and firing lines offing dissenters. It's far darker than the rest of Garcia's story, and the contrast is unsettling. Garcia paints a pretty picture, but he misses an opportunity to show a grittier, more compelling story.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].