"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
Critics of a Lost Nation
Out of the pens (or keyboards) of movie critics sometimes come the most convoluted and distorted thoughts known to man. The recently released movie The Lost City (directed by and starring Andy Garcia), a tale of the heady days in Havana circa 1959, has been met by many critics with disdain and scorn. In 2004 The Motorcycle Diaries, a sanitized story of Che Guevara's youth, was met with acclamation and feigning rave reviews. The Lost City, though written by Gabriel Cabrera Infante (a Cuban who lived through the revolution), and directed by Andy Garcia (who at five along with his family was forced to flee Cuba), is criticized for historical inaccuracies, while Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles (a Brazilian who didn't even ride on the now famous motorcycle), is praised for its accuracy and clarity. Why? Ingrained political myths and blind ideological worship.
In his review, Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor wrote of Lost City, 'In a movie about the Cuban Revolution, we almost never see any of the working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought.' If Mr. Rainier had first even cracked open a book on the Cuban Revolution of 1959 (there were other revolutions in Cuba), he would have noted that it was fought in large part by middle class (bourgeois) university students (Castro was one himself) who had grown tired with Batista's dictatorship. The poor were weary since they sensed a tinge of racism in the opposition to their mulatto leader (Batista) from Cuba 's mostly white upper and middle classes (71% at the time as per UN statistics). The fight in 1959 was not a class struggle but a political one and, to a lesser extent, a racial one. Castro's henchmen and confidants were and are, for the most part, white and middle to upper class. So much for Mr. Rainier's working poor fantasy of the revolution.
Andy Klein of LA City Beat seems utterly lost and confused as he moans about Che being portrayed as a 'smirking evil bastard.' How else should the image of a man personally responsible for the summary execution of hundreds of men be conveyed on the big screen? Maybe he prefers Kenneth Turan's description in the LA Times of Che in Motorcycle Diaries as a 'great man in training'; or James Verniere who wrote in The Boston Herald, 'a newfangled Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with Ernesto (Che's real name) ready to tilt windmills in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia.' I wonder if a movie of Adolph Eichmann's early life, while divorcing it from and ignoring all the well documented atrocities he committed later in life, would meet with such critical acclaim. I'm sure he was a very well behaved kindergartner.
It's not all just about Che. Lisa Rose's critique in the Star Ledger complains about Garcia's movie, 'communists are depicted as thieves and liars, just as greedy as the leaders they usurped.' If the movie is meant to be historically accurate, how else should communists be portrayed? Stephen Holden in The New York Times bellyached about Castro's henchmen (and women) being shown as 'buffoonish parodies of sour communist apparatchiks barking orders once Mr. Castro takes over.' I hate to burst Mr. Holden's utopian bubble, but that is exactly how they behaved. The proof in that is not only the myriad of documented incidents, but also in Cuba's deplorable living conditions today, due entirely to its communist master's contempt for private property and enterprise.
Perhaps descriptions of Che the communist in training, depicted in The Motorcycle Diaries, was much more palatable to some of these disgruntled critics. Gabriel Shanks in Mixed Reviews wrote, 'A love letter to South America and a striking document of man's relationship to his world, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES is an important and satisfying journey through the conscience'; maybe a dark and obscene conscience? In a Washington Post review enthusiastically titled Viva Che!, Desson Thomson writes of Che and his companion, 'They'll meet the displaced, the rootless and the poor.' Fortunately for those folks, Che was not armed, backed by a tyrannical government, or accompanied by Fidel on the motorcycle; otherwise they'd be worse off or dead.
Other critics complain about The Lost City 's length, overemphasis on a forbidden love affair, Bill Murray's unfocused character, or some of Andy Garcia's seemingly narcissistic scenes, and perhaps some of these critiques have merit. But where the movie is extremely accurate is in portraying the lives, thoughts, hopes, and disappointments of the majority of Cubans during those turbulent times. There are also some ominous parallels of which present day Americans should take note. When the main character Fico (Andy Garcia) is leaving Cuba by plane, he is patted down and has his luggage inspected thoroughly; he also glimpses behind a curtain where others are being strip searched. In 1960s Cuba , the 'Yankee Imperialists' were the boogeyman much like the 'Muslim Terrorists' are sold to Americans today. Also scenes of government operatives in Castro's regime impeding or seizing businesses using ridiculous rules and regulations are not too far from the current regulatory climate in the United States today.
Of course, Mr. Garcia was not able to count on the ' Hollywood establishment' for support on this movie (limited release), that was surprisingly shot on a shoestring budget of $9.5 million and given little or no promotion (unlike Motorcycle Diaries). I'm no film critic, but personally I give The Lost City a thumbs up (Motorcycle Diaries gets 'THE' finger) with some minor caveats previously mentioned, but well worth the price of admission.