This film won Best Documentary at the Melbourne and Noosa Film Festivals. I'm sorry I missed it when it showed in Melbourne, it's a film that would be just as enjoyable on a second viewing. Into Cuban music? Then you will love Buena Vista Social Club.
The BVSC was a hangout that existed sometime in the past, somewhere in Havana.When the film opens, an old Cuban man is trying to find its original location. What appears to be a quest for a building turns out to be an intro to an enchanting story. The BVSC is now the name of a group of Cuban musicians and singers, who, through a happy chain of events, have come out of obscurity into international prominence, culminating in a Grammy Award and a concert at Carnegie Hall.
The genesis of this film lies in a trip by Ry Cooder (American guitarist and composer) to Cuba in the 1970s. He fell in love with the seductive music. In 1996 he was asked to undertake a project there by a British record producer. When the West African musicians were unable to get to Cuba, Cooder assembled a group of older musicians, many of whom had drifted into anonymous poverty.
The result was the CD which became an international hit. German filmmaker Wenders (A Trick of the Light, Wings of Desire) has known Cooder for 20 years (Cooder scored The End of Violence and Paris, Texas). We see a series of informal interviews and daily lives of the performers, along with excerpts of studio recording and concert footage. Do you think Cuba and think poverty? You'd be right - the buildings are rotting right in front of your eyes. And what about cigars? There are a few moments in a cigar factory, where we get to see some being made. But it's what we hear that makes this documentary so special.
The music is a combination of Cuban folklore and various song forms, most prominently the Cuban son and bolero. There are also mambo, danzon and tumbao rhythms, along with tunes influenced by American jazz, gospel and blues (not surprising given Cooder's diverse influences). The Cuban performers range in age from a young 46 to a youthful 90. (This film would have been a perfect metaphor for the Year of Older Persons.)Wenders lets the musicians, through both their performances and voice-overs, tell their own story. You could almost close your eyes and let the music of love, love lost, and life-long struggle wash over you. But keep those eyes open, and watch the emotion on the faces of Buena Vista Social Club performers. It's a joy. (Emma Flanaghan--filmnet.org.au)