The Lost City: Andy Garcia makes it clear you should start the revolution without him
Andy Garcia’s The Lost City is clearly a labor of love. Garcia fought for nearly two decades to bring to the screen his vision of Cuba during the turbulent transitional period between the end of Fulgencio Batista’s right-wing dictatorship and the beginning of Fidel Castro’s left-wing dictatorship. But all of Garcia’s passion and good intentions notwithstanding, The Lost City has turned out to be a cinematic failure. The film is monotonously acted, schematically written, poorly edited, and, at 2 hours and 20 minutes, way overlong.
As the film’s star, Garcia gets loads of flattering close-ups but fails to create a character with any semblance of depth. His apolitical nightclub owner Fico Fellove may dress just like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, and may fall in love with a beautiful younger woman (Inés Sastre) like Bogart did in that 1942 classic, but the similarities end there.
Perhaps preoccupied with other aspects of the production, Garcia the actor sleepwalks through his role. His love scenes with Sastre are utterly devoid of chemistry, while his self-pitying heroics at the end of the film are appallingly contrived. Adding insult to injury, the audience is supposed to feel sympathy for a man who only cares about the world outside his club when his privileges are threatened – and then ruined – by the revolution.
As the film’s director, Garcia doesn’t know where to set up his camera – Fico’s first meeting with an unnamed and unfunny American writer played by Bill Murray looks particularly amateurish – while the love scenes have the look of cheap TV commercials. Garcia is also unable to elicit well-rounded performances from his generally capable and mostly Cuban or Cuban-American cast, some of whom speak flawless American English while others have Spanish accents of varying degrees.
(In a cameo as a Castro follower, Elizabeth Peña delivers the film’s closest thing to a performance. Determined to ban the saxophone – “an instrument of imperialism” – her left-wing militant is both fearsome and pathetic. One could see Peña’s role as emblematic of the Communist ruling class if one opts to ignore the fact that despots and despot-wannabes of every political stripe have banned or attempted to ban perceived social and political symbols they dislike.)
As the film’s co-producer, Garcia unfortunately failed to realize where to cut and when to stop. Made on a tight budget – and it shows – The Lost City could have been a better film if a good forty minutes of it had been left on the cutting room floor.
Admittedly, cutting nearly one third of The Lost City would help relieve the tedium but it wouldn’t completely solve the picture’s myriad problems. The screenplay credited to the late Cuban writer G. Cabrera Infante would also have to be drastically rewritten. Even though credit must be given to Infante for treating all dictators and their henchmen with equal contempt, the screenwriter is to blame for his cardboard characters and for the political speechifying heard ad nauseam throughout the film.
Ironically, for a film whose characters’ every other line revolves around their love for Cuba, The Lost City offers precious little sense of time and place. (The film was shot in the Dominican Republic, though it might as well have been shot in Miami.) Instead, Garcia fills the screen with musical numbers that are apparently supposed to fill in for the missing Havana streets, which at the time were teeming with fear, anger, and expectation – in fact, exactly the sort of dramatic urgency that The Lost City sorely lacks.
In the late 1950s, Havana nightclub owner Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia) begins to realize that the country around him is changing irrevocably. Fico lacks any interest in politics, even though every other male in his family has an opinion about what is best for Cuba. His father (Tomas Milian), a respected professor at the University of Havana, and his uncle (Richard Bradford), owner of a large plantation, tend to stick to the status quo or to offer the suggestion of “passive resistance.”
Fico’s brothers Ricardo (Enrique Murciano) and Luis (Nestor Carbonell), however, have become involved in two different militant groups intent on deposing dictator Fulgencio Batista (Juan Fernández).
After being tortured, Ricardo leaves his family to join the guerrillas of Fidel Castro (Gonzalo Menendez) and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (Jsu Garcia) in Cuba’s countryside. The idealistic Luis, who dreams of restoring democracy to Cuba, participates in a failed attempt to kill Batista in the presidential palace. Shortly thereafter, all of the – apparently quite inept – insurgents are killed by only two of Batista’s henchmen.
Goaded by his mother (Millie Perkins), Fico begins dating Luis’ widow, Aurora (Inés Sastre). A romance soon develops, but it gets derailed after Batista leaves the country, and Castro and Guevara’s forces take over. Aurora is named a Widow of the Revolution, and – suddenly and inexplicably – decides to become a part of the ruling left-wing militia.
Fico is devastated. Unable to stay in Cuba now that his nightclub has all but gone out of business, he decides to leave for New York City. There, he gets a new chance in life with the help of a nice mobster, Meyer Lansky (Dustin Hoffman).
Throughout it all, Fico’s sidekick, an American writer-comedian with no name (Bill Murray), cracks unfunny jokes about the personal and political events around him.
The Lost City was shot in 35 days in the Dominican Republic, at a cost of US$9.5 million.
Actress Millie Perkins, who plays Andy Garcia’s mother in The Lost City, began her film career auspiciously with the lead role in George Stevens’ 1959 film version of The Diary of Anne Frank. (Audrey Hepburn had been the initial choice for the role.)
Andy Garcia’s father was a lawyer and avocado farmer. (It’s as if he is represented in The Lost City by Tomas Milian’s and Richard Bradford’s characters.) He fled Cuba with his family after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, settling in the Miami Beach area.
The Lost City screenplay has some elements in common with G. Cabrera Infante’s novel Tres Tristes Tigres / Three Trapped Tigers, published in 1964. Set in 1958, the stylistically challenging novel depicts the lives of several young Havana denizens, with particular emphasis on that city’s night life.
Garcia’s character, Fico Fellove, was inspired by Tropicana owner Martin Fox, who had to flee Cuba after his casino-nightclub was closed down by the Castro regime. He died of a stroke in the mid-1960s.
The book of memoirs by Fox’s widow, Cuban-born Ofelia Suarez, was published in fall 2005. Co-written with Rosa Lowinger, the book is called Tropicana Nights, The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub. Suarez died in Burbank, Calif., in January 2006.
This report from the U.S. Treasury Bureau of Narcotics indicates that the owners of the Tropicana (and those of other Havana nightclubs) may have been involved in more than just gambling and mambo dancing.
“The film is about impossible love. Having to leave the thing you most cherish. The country, the city, the woman. The tragedy of exile. That’s true for all exile experiences. It’s a universal theme. You have that profound nostalgia for the old country.” Andy Garcia, as quoted in Newsday.
In an interview for the Los Angeles Daily News, Andy Garcia claimed that there have been festivals that refused to show The Lost City for political reasons. “And that will continue to happen,” Garcia added, “from people who don’t want to see the image of Che be tarnished and from people who support the Castro regime.”
Screenwriter G. Cabrera Infante
Novelist and film critic Guillermo Cabrera Infante, whose parents were founding members of the Cuban Communist Party (and who were jailed in 1936), initially supported Fidel Castro’s revolution and even served as a government cultural representative during Castro’s regime.
Cabrera was born in Gibara in 1929, moving with his family to Havana in 1941. He founded the Cuban Cinematheque, presiding it from 1951 to 1956. In 1952, he was temporarily jailed by Fulgencio Batista’s regime for publishing a short story containing profanities.
After the revolution, Cabrera’s support for Castro dwindled when Lunes, the writer’s literary supplement for the magazine Revolución, was shut down in 1961. Four years later, Cabrera went into exile in England. From then on, he became an outspoken critic of Castro’s policies.
In 1997, he was awarded the Premio Cervantes, the most important literary prize in the Spanish language.
Cabrera also wrote a handful of screenplays, including Vanishing Point (1971), Wonderland (1973), and the unproduced adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. (The screenplay for John Huston’s 1984 film version of Lowry’s novel was written by Guy Gallo.)
Bill Murray’s unnamed writer is apparently a stand-in for Cabrera in The Lost City.
The Lost City (2005). Director: Andy Garcia. Screenplay: G. Cabrera Infante. Cast: Andy Garcia, Inés Sastre, Bill Murray, Steven Bauer, Richard Bradford, Dustin Hoffman, Tomas Milian, Nestor Carbonell, Jsu Garcia, Elizabeth Peña, Millie Perkins.