Sometimes it's enough if you can carry a tune

The Cuban isn't the most complicated film to come to a drive-in near you, says Chris Knight, but it's heartfelt in its simplicity

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With its wispy-thin plot and a soundtrack stocked with Cuba’s greatest hits, The Cuban doesn’t make big demands of its audiences, one of which named it best narrative feature, at the Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival in February.

But simple doesn’t have to mean lacking in entertainment value. Featuring the great Louis Gossett Jr. and Toronto actor/producer Ana Golja, the story of an aging Cuban musician battling dementia in a Canadian nursing home delivers a sweet tale of music, memory and amor.

When we first meet Mina (Golja), a pre-med student and Afghan refugee with an unlikely but convenient love of Cuban music, she’s just started working in a nursing home. That’s where she meets Luis (Gossett), whose condition – vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s – makes him withdrawn and sullen. But a poster on the wall of his room starts her humming, and darned if music doesn’t awaken a flash of recognition in the old man.


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“Music stimulates the dorsal lateral frontal cortex,” explains Kris (Giacomo Gianniotti), Mina’s love interest and deliverer of the single worst line of dialogue in a movie this year. (And I saw Bloodshot before lockdown.) Later, he’ll be one half of one of those PG-rated lovemaking scenes that’s all artful close-ups of elbows and chins, tastefully arranged bed sheets, and then a cut to the next day.

So it’s clear that writer Alessandra Piccione and director Sergio Navarretta aren’t trying to push any cinematic boundaries here. But The Cuban is a huge step up from their last collaboration, 2015’s The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship, which was basically a 102-minute ad for Niagara’s wine region. Better title on this one too.

Gossett, 84 and going strong, does a good job embodying the confusion of his character, as well as the joy he feels at such simple pleasures as an old song played on a guitar, or an authentic Cuban sandwich. (He’s given ample if unnecessary assistance by Navarretta, who swings into a flashback scene every time Luis looks wistful.) Meanwhile Golja, who’s been performing since she was nine, sells the simple, sympathetic nature of her character. And she can sing!

Once you make peace with the fact that you’re reasonably certain where the main story is going, and come to the realization that you don’t really have any investment in the subplots – they include relationship entanglements of minor characters, as well as Mina’s I-know-what’s-best-for-you aunt – then you can settle back and enjoy the breezy, musical ride. Like the tuneful selections that form its backbone, The Cuban works best when it stays at a steady tempo and doesn’t change keys.

The Cuban opens at select drive-ins and cinemas beginning July 31.

2.5 stars out of 5