Editor’s note: Dr. Tom Snyder contributed to this commentary. He has a doctorate in film studies from Northwestern University, and is editor of MOVIEGUIDE?, a family guide to movies and entertainment from a Christian, conservative perspective, located in Hollywood.
Cuban-born actor Andy Garcia remembers the frightening day his family left Havana, Cuba, when he was only 5 years old in 1961.
The airport was filled with soldiers in military fatigues, holding guns and accompanied by dogs. One of the soldiers approached his sister with large cutting shears in his hands. Andy thought the soldier was going to cut off his sister’s hand in order to take some ringlets off her fingers, but the soldier only cut the ringlets from her fingers.
One of the soldiers remembered being taught by Andy’s mother in high school. He stopped another official from taking the watch she used in her English class to tell time.
“No, that watch is a cheap watch,” the soldier lied. Plus, he said, the mother needs it to tell what time to feed her children.
Forty-five years later, after a 16-year effort, Garcia has finally made a movie about his beloved Cuba, and Fidel Castro’s brutal communist takeover of that island. A nostalgic tribute to Havana, the “Paris of the Caribbean,” and Cuban music, “The Lost City” includes a powerful scene at the airport where a communist official paws over the belongings of people, making sure that their most important personal possessions remain the property of the State.
In other scenes, the movie shows the Castro government seizing small businesses, telling musicians they can’t use the saxophone because it’s a “decadent” instrument and executing some of the hundreds of people.
Poetic, dramatic and at times incredibly moving, “The Lost City” not only is a loving tribute to Havana and Cuban art and music, it is also a loving tribute to liberty, democracy and capitalism. Castro’s regime is clearly portrayed as an evil dictatorship.
“The Lost City,” which also stars Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman and Spanish actress Ines Sastre, is also very pro-family. The patriarch of the protagonist’s Catholic family is shown as a loving leader who advocates peaceful resistance and the importance of family over politics. The movie also includes scenes of the family praying at the dinner table. One of these scenes is emotionally powerful.
Happily, this is also one political, historical movie that explodes the lies behind that evil pop-culture icon, Che Guevara. Recent demonstrations by illegal aliens contained some T-shirts and placards with Guevara’s likeness on them. “The Lost City” shows, however, the kind of monster that Guevara truly was. At one point in the movie, Che asserts, “The ends justifies the means.”
By attacking the terrible regime that Castro and Guevara brought to Cuba in this way, Andy Garcia and his team are making a powerful defense of the need for eternal values and moral absolutes. Their movie not only is a credit to Cuba, it is also a credit to the adopted country of their families, the United States. Despite all of the tragic circumstances surrounding today’s Cuba, the movie ends on a spirit of hope, freedom and celebration.
“I wish we didn’t have to tell this story,” Garcia said, “because, then, it wouldn’t have happened. And, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be growing potatoes in Havana and probably playing the piano. I’d be very happy. I’d be a gentleman-farmer piano-player.”
What does he want the average American citizen and people of other cultures to get out of the movie?
“It’s a movie that reflects all the classical elements of the films that I’ve responded to in my life. It’s the end of a way of life. It’s a celebration of a culture that I hold very dear and the music of that culture. The music is a protagonist in the film.
“And,” he added, “it’s about impossible love, about having to leave the most important thing you cherish. ‘The Lost City’ is an epic story of one man’s struggle to hold onto the soul of a people. In the movie, before [my character] leaves, the soldier says to him, ‘You can’t take Cuba with you.’ But, you can, and I did.
“I live in the Lost City every day of my life,” he concluded.
The story of “The Lost City” is also a very personal one for one of Garcia’s co-stars, Enrique Murciano, who plays Andy’s younger brother in the movie. Enrique’s grandparents escaped Castro’s tyranny.
“They lost everything they had and came to this country with nothing,” he said.
Enrique added, “I grew up around Andy, seeing his career grow and grow. I was at his house one day, and I saw this script. It had this beautiful cover.”
Not only did he happen to come upon the script one day, he also accidentally came upon one of the scriptwriter’s novels, “Three Trapped Tigers,” one day in the bookstore. Then, when the crew went to the Dominican Republic to shoot the movie, one of the most important scenes in the movie for Enrique happened to be within sight of the house that his grandfather had bought because the area reminded him so much of his beloved Cuba.
“I really believe that stuff happens for a reason and everything sort of works out,” he said.
Enrique is happy that the movie finally tells the truth not only about what Castro has done to Cuba, but also the truth about the ruthless communist revolutionary and executioner, Che Guevara.
“I hope this movie opens some eyes,” Murciano said. “Sadly, Cuba’s current state is that of oppression. People think Cuba and they think cha-cha-cha, rum and coke, cigars, the Tropicana, and everyone’s so happy and poor. I hope people see the movie and walk away from it, thinking, ‘I got to see Cuba’s history from a different vantage point.’”
In the past couple years, films that have dealt with this subject matter always romanticize Che, the beret and the beautiful beard and the stoic look off into the distance. Che has sort of become the face of the underdog, the underprivileged, and in many ways he did that, but at the same time, Che’s history and Cuba’s history hasn’t been reported on accurately. There’s a lot of stuff that happened [in Cuba] that people don’t know about, and there’s a lot of stuff that happens today, that people don’t know about.
Actor Jsu Garcia, who plays Che Guevara in the movie, adds, “Che killed many people, yet he seduced the world into loving him so much that he’s on T-shirts. Most don’t understand what he stood for and what he really did. [Andy Garcia] gave me permission to show Che in a dark light.”
“The people of Cuba are suffering,” Enrique noted. “People are desperate. Regardless of your education, you might be a neurologist or a biochemical engineer, and you’re driving tourists around [in a taxi] and your 14-year-old daughter disappears in the morning to do, God knows what, for an eight ounce glass of milk. Dissidents have been arrested and given 30-35 year sentences for congregating publicly.
“I would like a peaceful transition [after Castro dies] into a democratic system that truly works. I’d like to see people to be able to think freely and aspire to be what inside of their hearts they truly want to be.”
From all reports, the Cuban exile community in the United States has responded very favorably and dramatically to Andy Garcia’s movie “The Lost City.”
“We had an extraordinary screening at the Miami Film Festival,” Garcia said. “Some people fainted and had to be carried out. It was incredible.”
“The Lost City” is one of the most important movie events of the year. In fact, it is one of the most important historical movies ever made. Moreover, it is also one of the most important political movies ever made. It also is one of the most important Hispanic, Latino and Cuban movies ever made. Finally, it is one of the most important American movies ever made.
“The Lost City” deserves to be seen by every voter and politician on earth.