When I began my journey as a film critic one of my premiere red carpets was for a film called “I’ll Be Me” with director James Keach. This award-winning documentary centered around Grammy winning Country artist Glen Campbell and his fight with Alzheimer’s. A battle he fought valiantly and eventually lost to a cruel disease which robs loved ones of memories and lives. Memories that become precious as one grows older and approaches their final chapter of life.
Luis Garcia aka El Guitarista (Louis Gossett, Jr.) has lost all hope until he meets up with a naive pre-med student Mina (Ana Golja) at his nursing home. When this unexpected friendship blossoms, Mina’s reignition and love of music changes both their lives forever. Directed by Sergio Navaretta and produced alongside Golja, Alessandra Piccione and Taras Koltun this passion project is not only a loving tribute to anyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but a love letter to Cuba, it’s culture, music and cuisine.
From its watercolor opening to verbal homage of legendary musicians like Benny More’ , The Cuban is layered with so much yummy goodness I don’t even know where to begin. From brief acknowledgement of those having to flee because of Castro and revolution to the gentle love story between artists and friends to the overproductive Aunt Bano Ayoub (Shohreh Aghdashloo) harboring her own secret of being a lesbian.
It’s alot to unpack, but you don’t mind all the pieces of luggage presented before you with a soundtrack as lively and interesting as the characters inhabiting this story. Then there’s the issue of medically proven facts concerning how immensely helpful and comforting music can be for patients of Alzheimer’s. Yet, when these same patients are placed in facilities, there is a tendency to medicate first and ask questions later. If we know nothing else we have seen music repeatedly serve as a healing power during challenging times like wars, pandemics, mentally ill individuals and yes, even those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Watching Nurse Baker (Lauren Holly) inhabit such ‘Nurse Ratched” behavior toward a patient who clearly seeks to just be treated with humane compassion is infuriating and not so uncommon with real life.
Perhaps, a few endearing moments that strongly resonate occur as Mina sneaks in her old school record player and wax records in order to bring a little Cuba to Luis’ room, the impromptu jam sessions at the club and nursing home for Luis and conversations with Mina’s Aunt about education. It’s an adage I’ve heard from my own mother most of my life, “Education is the only thing that will make you free in this world and something no one can ever take away from you.” Education provides one with dignity and so does having a right to go out of this world on your own terms.
Performances from Louis Gossett, Jr. and Ana Golja make this film charmingly special and totally worth watching. Gossett doesn’t speak much, but this Oscar winner makes use of every single solitary second he inhabits. Ana Golja exhibits a tremendous amount of range not only as a gifted actress, but possessing gorgeous vocal skills to boot.
The Cuban warmed my heart, made me angry and reminded me of music (no matter its genre), is a healing super power intersecting amongst races, genres and generations.