By: Trevor Chartrand
The Cuban explores the burgeoning friendship between a pre-med nurse, Mina (Ana Golja), and the elderly man she’s assigned to take care of (Louis Gossett Jr.) after she takes a job at a retirement home. Her charge turns out to be a stubborn, guarded man named Luis Garcia; a man plagued by Alzheimer’s, with a side order of dementia to boot. As the two spend more and more time together, Mina discovers music can jostle Mr. Garcia’s elusive memories – specifically the Cuban jazz music from his past. Using art and personality, Mina helps brings him back to life, much to the chagrin of the cold, calculated doctors who run the nursing home.
Director Sergio Navarretta and cinematographer Celiana Cárdenas clearly make a phenomenal team, especially with the development of the visual language of this film. The contrast between the plain, drab scenes in the hospital versus the film’s more fantastical sequences, including Mr. Garcia’s memories, are handled with just the right amount of subtlety to make a powerful impression on the audience. The use of vivid colours in the film enriches an otherwise meek narrative with some compelling visual flourishes, making for a memorable viewing experience.
While the thrust of the story isn’t groundbreaking and doesn’t really feature many surprises, the completeness of the characters is what truly make this a story worth seeing. The humanity and richness of these characters breathes life into the world of the film. Even supporting characters, such as Mina’s aunt Bano Ayoub (Shohreh Aghdashloo) have implied backstories with more depth than the protagonists of some contemporary films.
The diversity of the cast should be commended as well, since representation is handled quite effectively in The Cuban. This movie demonstrates all walks of life without drawing attention to the point, unlike the flashy ‘look at me,’ approach to diversity a larger studio might take. This makes for an encouraging piece that truly highlights cultural understating.
The cast all turn in fantastic performances, with Watchmen’s Louis Gossett Jr really showing his chops and leading the pack here. His transformation from a guarded old grump to a wide-eyed, giddy, lover of life is something to behold. The weakest link in the film though would be Mina’s underwritten, moustache-twirling antagonistic boss Nurse Baker (Lauren Holly), the most underdeveloped and lacking character in the story.
Overall though, the wholesome relationship between Golja’s Mina and Gossett Jr’s Mr. Garcia is an incredible driving force in The Cuban, but the true star of this film is the effective cinematography. While the narrative may be lacking, the film’s likeable characters and its vivid, colourful style ensure watching The Cuban is a pleasant, surprising, and unforgettable experience.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor