Musica Cubana, by Argentine director German Kral, has been touted as the sequel to Wim Wenders’ 1998 masterpiece of documentary filmmaking, The Buena Vista Social Club. On that point, this film has been given more credit than it is worthy of. Although Wenders is the executive producer of, filmed in 2004 on location in Cuba and Japan, this film bears little in common with Wenders’ skillful cinema verite of the then-forgotten, now superstars of Cuban music, the musical collective known as The Buena Vista Social Club.
Kral’s approach to storytelling should have taken a more decisive cue from Wenders’ film, yet the novice director seems to be unable to decide whether this film is drama or documentary, skirting a fine and unconvincing line between the two genres. The 88-minute film tries to merge true-life characters into a shallow fictionalized script using talent gleaned from Cuba’s burgeoning music scene. It’s this talent that saves the film, which otherwise comes off as disingenuous at best.
The story begins with BVSC’s endearing octogenarian singer, Pio Leyva (real), who is on his way to a radio station to perform. On his way, he meets a cab driver, played by actor Barbaro Marin (fiction), who decides that, with the aid of Leyva, a new band would be formed called “The Sons of Cuba” (fiction). The rest of the film takes us along to find the new members of the band, who are selected from Cuba’s finest, including velvety-voiced beauty Osgaldio Lesmes (real) and crooner Pedro “El Nene” Lugo Martinez (real), a worthy successor to Cuba’s legendary bolero singers.
Later, we find Los Van Van’s vocalist Mario “Mayito” Rivera (real), who enjoys superstar status in Cuba, playing a struggling musician who invites the viewer into his home, and into his Cuba. When he declares decisively that he wants to live in Cuba because, “Now everyone is equal. We are all one…,” an audible groan, bordering on boos, erupted from the mostly (Cuban exiles from Castro’s revolution) audience at the Miami International Film Festival, where the film made its U.S. debut last February, sharing the billing with some of the finest Ibero-American entries.
But, no such reaction was heard when he said, misogynistically but affectionately, that, “There are no women like Latin women because of how they take care of you,” while having his feet rubbed by his teenaged wife as he reclined lazily on a circa 1950 sofa in his Havana flat.
A trip outside of Havana yields the hip-hop duo the Chiki Chaka Girls (real), who come to add a little flava to the mix of talents already assembled as the icing on the cake. But, one wonders, how can this group be the “sons” of Cuba with three women as much in the foreground as the men? Rolling back into Havana, past the Malecon, where the sun dips gloriously into the Caribbean, the film begins to take on authenticity. A stop in the present-day Buena Vista neighborhood keys in on the vi