A review of “The Lost City” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, language, mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 33 minutes

 

 

Andy Garcia’s passionate love letter to his native Cuba is a cluttered labor of love weighty with visual panache and mawkish sentiment.

Pre-Communist Cuba circa 1958 positively swoons with romance and color, a hedonistic playground of la dolce vita. For Fico Fellove (Garcia) life is all about family and the posh Havana nightclub he operates for well-heeled Cubans.

As history dictates Fulgencio Batista’s fascist dictatorship segues into Fidel Castro’s ruthless social justice and the good life goes to pot, caught in a vice of anger, discontent and revolution. Fico’s handsome younger brothers Luis and Ricardo (Nestor Carbonell and Enrique Murciano) embrace the political upheaval and can’t or won’t acknowledge that Cuba is destined for ruin.

Rather predictably Fico finds himself mired in tragedy, suffering Ricardo’s betrayal (as a puppet for Che Guevara’s guerilla left) and the death of Luis in an urban rebel coup. Ultimately he falls for Luis’ sultry widow Aurora (Inés Sastre) who herself becomes a pawn in Castro’s evil game by accepting the titular position of Widow of the Revolution.

Torn between his desire for Aurora and a longing for a better life outside the confines of Castro’s regime, Fico secretly makes plans to escape Cuba and leave the only life he has ever known. Cue the violins.

I’ve nothing but admiration for the fervor that Garcia brings to his convoluted mood piece, an eighteen-year crusade that’s finally come to fruition. The production design is gloriously lush -- vivid with the blistering tints of the Caribbean – and the players are costumed to within a stylish inch of their lives. Garcia wrote the score himself, a proud potpourri of heady Cuban standards and original work that is the crux of this clumsy yet visually intoxicating melodrama.

But “City” bites off far more than it can chew, layering on political principles and broken love affairs with abandon and taking its sweet time doing it. Piles of clichés (“In the sea, even a shark can drown”) smother impending doom, applied via grainy black-and-white footage of Castro’s victorious seizure of a country on the edge.

Garcia calls in the favors of some thespian heavyweights but both Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman (as an expatriate American writer and gangster, respectively) are cumbersome fits for their poorly crafted roles. Garcia himself is muy caliente (hot hot hot!), looking every inch the rico suave in a snow-white tux and a dark chocolate smolder.

Handsomely executed but hopelessly flawed, “City” is an historical epic sans the epic.