The Lost City: A Cuban Rhapsody
by actor/director Andy Garcia
At one point in my movie, The Lost City, a Revolutionary Guard at the Havana airport departure gate speaks to my character, Fico Fellove. “You can’t take Cuba with you, you know,” the Guard states, returning an iconic cocktail stir stick to Fico, having just relieved him of all his valuables and his father’s heirloom watch. The soldier discovers a few of Fico’s precious record albums by Beny Moré and Bola de Nieve along with a Bolex movie camera with which the exile would “film the injustice of American life.” Recognizing Fico as “a man of taste,” the soldier allows him to take these items into exile. It is a small scene in a film full of metaphors.
As a point of fact, Cuba is all Fico really does take with him—a Cuba that survives in his soul where his culture and music will become his salvation and destiny in another land. The Cuba he leaves behind will be his impossible love—a unique beauty, a timeless inspiration now seduced by a shallow political ideology and simplistic slogans. Cuba has become a lover Fico no longer understands. Like scripted lines which do not read, or lyrics that cannot be sung, the imposed Party line suffocates his personal and creative freedoms. Although his loss is huge, Fico bears her no malice. The Cuba he leaves behind simply no longer feeds his spirit. And he was not alone.
In real life, at age five, when my parents decided that I would not have a communist state education, my life as a Cuban ended and my life as a Cuban American began. As a boy, too young to fully analyze, much less dissent or take sides in a raging worldwide political debate, I had already been indelibly marked by sounds and experiences I found in every home and Havana street corner. My youth, the music and rhythms of Cuba became inseparable—the eyes and the ears of my culture and soul became the time capsule of my youth. Thus, like my exiled film character Fico, it was only a matter of time until those formative events resurfaced to transform my life. In that too, I am not alone.
Today, I find myself positioned to tell a story of Cuba. The story of a family torn apart by revolution and the impossible love of a beautiful woman are not just cinematic shorthand for my complex and undying love for a city, an island, a people and a culture, but living truths that survive in me and in many other exiles. I was saved by my music, and want to preserve and share it. The Lost City is about many things, but it is the music that runs most deep in my veins. Neither blockades nor artistic repression can contain it. It is inexorable, like water, it will always get in, and out.
In my movie, I try not to validate, preach or take sides in an old fight. I prefer to recapture a time when Havana was the “Paris of the Caribbean,” a vibrant, elegant and cultured city threatened and subverted by violence and social injustice, then torn apart by a revolution that became misguided and, finally, betrayed. The disintegration of the Fellove family marks this passage as an intellectual university professor and his farmer brother struggle to impart traditions of non-violence and justice to three sons. Those who embrace violence, both in just and unjust causes, pay the price. Son Fico, a prominent, apolitical nightclub owner, is cast as the keeper of culture until his club is deemed incompatible with revolutionary ideals, and becomes a theater of the absurd. The resulting descent into madness is described by a nameless expatriate gag writer whose odd ramblings make more sense than revolutionary slogans.
Many of the nearly 40 songs I selected for the soundtrack are original compositions by Cuba’s greatest musicians. Together they form a rich tapestry of musical styles— a Cuban rhapsody: elegant classical works by Lecuona and Cervantes; Afro-Cuban folk chants; compositions by the living jazz bass maestro, Cachao; dance music by Orquestra Sensación and Chappottin all weave a specific musical narrative, almost a character unto itself. Portrayed in the film are Beny Moré, Bola de Nieve and Rolando Laserrie—mega stars of their day and among the most influential artists in Latin music. While many Cuban songs have been recently rediscovered, I felt a historical and artistic obligation to include the originals to better evoke a cinematic style of the late 1950s.
My film captures a moment in time, a moment of change, which for me and many others became a moment of departure. So when I reach out to my love, the stunning and seductive Aurora, who has chosen differently than my character Fico, I reach out to keep her alive in my soul, not to keep her nearby, or in hand, for mine is another destiny. I find solace in the one thing that has never betrayed me, the music. The music is forever—a gift for all. A lost love, a love lost–The Lost City.