The Cuban

At the Movies Blog

Lou Gossett Jr. shines in this indie picture.

There are two things I love, and this movie contained both. One, is Louis Gossett Jr. Of course you know him from Roots and so many films. He won an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman, which was one of my favorite movies of the ‘80s. 

The other thing I loved that was in this movie, was the song Quizas, Quizas, Quizas by Osvaldo Farres. That song became popular in the U.S. when Desi Arnaz covered it in the late ‘40s, and more popular when Doris Day did it, with the English translation to “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” It was most recently covered by Andrea Bocelli and Jennifer Lopez, and has been done by Bing Crosby and two Kings — Nat King Cole and Ben E. King. I especially love the version by punk/alternative band Cake.

Perhaps (no pun intended) the biggest problem with this movie is that we’ve seen this type of story before. A younger character wanting to learn more about the older person that might not have long to live. That means a lot of elements are predictable. Yet that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of watching these characters any less.

Ana Golja is terrific as Mina, the caring nurse in an assisted living facility. She’s a tad naive, and is intrigued by the poster Luis Garcia (Gossett) has on his wall. It’s a Cuban musician who her dad was a fan of. Since Luis never talks, and throws his plates of food to the ground, she tries to coax him into eating with a Cuban dish she brings in. That works, as does playing some 45s (for you young folks, that’s a single song on a record, that you had to put a needle on to listen to). He even mumbles along to a few of the songs, and mistakes Mina for a long lost love.

The film starts with these gorgeous splashes of watercolor paint on pictures of Cuba, and when we get a flashback into Luis’ memory, the shots there (by Celiana Cardenas) are lovely.

Of course, there’s a stuffy Nurse Ratchet, err…Nurse Baker (Lauren Holly), who isn’t too fond of Mina “going rogue” in her care of Luis.

I was so thrilled to see Shohreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand and Fog) in this. I love her face, her voice, and most of all, her acting. She plays Mina’s aunt who was a doctor in her homeland, and is working hard to make sure her niece doesn’t get distracted in her studies at medical school. Of course, Mina has a meet-cute with a guy (Giacomo Gianniotti of Grey’s Anatomy) she is thrown together with when her cousin wants to go out on a date on the downlow. Their relationship never quite worked for me, especially when it relied on a few coincidences (the fact that he wrote his thesis on the exact thing she’s dealing with regarding Luis). A few of the conversations were more exposition than the way real couples chat. On that same topic, it was perfect that they didn’t overwrite the Luis character. It’s not like in most movies where a character has dementia, but can come out of it at just the right time to say just the right thing. Luis is…pretty far gone. Yet when he smiles, laughs, says a name, or tries to sing — it’s magical. 

It was nice that the film didn’t get preachy about Mina and her family being Muslim, different cultures, or characters that are vegetarians (well, one guy does ravage burgers on the sly). 

It’s a bit odd that Mina is able to spend so much time with Luis. At one point my wife said, “Doesn’t she have other patients?” 

Not to mention, Nurse Baker should have popped up to lecture her at least one more time, letting her know that as admirable as it is that she cares about Luis, she has a job to do. It would have made her more human and less cartoonish. And, had they shown Mina with just another resident or two, and also trying to dig into their past as a way to help them come out of their shells…it would have all made a bit more sense.

One of Lou Gossett’s underrated films is Diggstown (James Woods). He plays an aging boxer that ends up fighting 10 guys in town to win a bet. There’s a powerful scene where he goes to meet a boxer that’s crippled because of a boxing match (and because of the crooked Mayor played deliciously by Bruce Dern). Gossett kneels down to talk to the boxer, who is basically a vegetable. It breaks your heart. I thought of that scene in this movie, when Gossett is the one in the wheelchair, who doesn’t acknowledge the nurse who’s being so kind to him in the beginning. In real life, Gossett (who also produced this film) is 84. I’m hoping he has at least 10 more years of giving us films like this.

Hilario Duran adds some soul to the score, and…I don’t know anything about Canadian singer/actress Ana Golja, but her vocals were astounding in this. I also don’t know anything about director Sergio Navarretta, but really enjoyed the style of how this picture was put together. It was a treat to look at. It’s a small, but charming picture.

3 stars out of 5.

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