Canadian director Sergio Navarretta has a light and breezy film “The Cuban,” which highlights an affectionate friendship between an aged musician and his nurse. In some filmmakers’ hands, the theme of a patient and his caregiver might make for somber viewing but Navarretta injects the story with enough spirit to keep it engaging.
Mina (Ana Golja) is a young Afghan nurse who is assigned to feed and care for Luis (Louis Gossett Jr.) a septuagenarian musician who has vascular dementia. No nurse can get through to Luis who is either catatonic or enraged. Mina is frustrated but happens to play a bit of music on a turn table and notices a smile and laughter. Then Luis trembles in terror as if he has seen a ghost. Luis sees Mina as his lost love Elena. Though she is taken aback, Mina knows she is on to something. In one scene, Luis sees Mina / Elena and makes a pass, but the nurse is unfazed and continues bringing Cuban music and cuisine. Luis comes to life, singing and swaying in his chair. He starts eating with gusto. The administration of the home confronts Mina telling her that her methods are inappropriate.
Louis Gossett Jr. has mystery and a spirit that is palpable. At times he is a being locked in the nautilus shell of his body only to be transformed into a man of smoothness and glib confidence by the energy of music.
Ana Golja is also excellent as a somewhat passive nurse who becomes more alive forthright and sensual by the sound of Latin Jazz.
Actor Shohreh Aghdashloo is Mina’s conservative mother who feels beaten down by the medical administration.
Mina’s love interest Kris (Giacomo Giannotti) becomes jealous of Mina’s attention for Luis but later relents when he meets the lively man.
The gray confines of the nursing home is contrasted by the bright reds, oranges and blues of a 1950s Cuba where all is shiny and bright. It is a place that Luis goes to whenever he hears the sweep of maracas or the beat of drums. But there are ominous strains of music too. Is Elena mocking Luis or beckoning him to a new paradise? There is surprise at the end that is not quite expected.
Louis Gossett Jr. captures both the haunt and the euphorias that can accompany the elderly. At times, he has the joy of a teenaged paramour, at others he seems to see Lucifer himself.
“The Cuban” is an affectionate and emotional study that is as much about the eerie ghosts of love as it is about the joy of friendship.
This film is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinema Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic!
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org