His Homeland, His Obsession
IAMI, Feb. 7 - Andy Garcia, known for roles in films like "Ocean's Eleven" and "The Godfather: Part II," lives in a two-story ranch-style house in Toluca Lake, nestled beneath the Santa Monica Mountains north of downtown Los Angeles. He also keeps a Bahamas-style house trimmed with mahogany shutters and framed by a lush garden in Key Biscayne, one of this city's most exclusive addresses. But ask him where home is and Mr. Garcia responds swiftly and firmly: "Cuba," the island he left 43 years ago when he was 5.
Mr. Garcia has never returned to the country of his birth. Like many other Cubans he refuses to go back until Fidel Castro has stepped down.. While he waits, Miami, which he visits frequently, has become his "home away from home," he said, the city where he talks with family and friends about the days before the revolution, days he sees in his mind as a collage of impressions.
Mr. Garcia was here last week for the 22nd Miami International Film Festival, which closes Feb. 13, with his most recent film, "Modigliani." During his brief presentation of the film, in which he plays the title character, Mr. Garcia said he hoped to be invited back next year with a project he has been working on for some time. He did not specify the nature of the project. He didn't have to.
Anyone who follows his career - and among Cuban exiles in Miami, many do - knows that Mr. Garcia, 48, has been obsessed for the last 16 years with making "The Lost City," a film about Havana in the late 1950's, on the eve of Mr. Castro's government takeover. Now in post-production, the film tells the story of three brothers forced to take sides by the Cuban revolution.
"There is a need to tell that angle of the Cuban story," said Nicole Guillemet, the director of the festival, which is presented by Miami Dade College, where Mr. Garcia discovered acting as a student in the 1970's.. "But the film has to be carried by a good, strong story and it has to be authentic."
Mr. Garcia, who has directed only one other feature, the documentary "Cachao," and is also "The Lost City's" lead actor, said he had been knocking on doors for almost two decades to secure financing for just that kind of movie about the Cuban experience. He estimated that he had attended 50, perhaps 70, meetings with studio executives and others, but Hollywood was not interested and appears to remain uninterested. The film has yet to find an American distributor.
Mr. Garcia said that though studio executives who declined to back "The Lost City" never told him they were bothered by the film's political undertones, he did not doubt that politics may have played a role. In one scene, it is implied that Che Guevara has given the order to execute a friend of the character Mr. Garcia plays in the film.
"I've seen a lot of naïve opinions about Cuba," Mr. Garcia said. "They think of it as that island down there, where people have rum and the cigars and 'I hear is very nice' type of comment. That's all they know.. They have no clue that people live in an oppressed society."
With two exceptions, he said - Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather: Part II," for which Mr. Garcia received a supporting actor Oscar nomination, and Julian Schnabel's "Before Night Falls" - no American film has accurately portrayed Cuban society. He points to León Ichaso, who may be best known for writing and directing "Piñero," about the Puerto Rican poet-playwright, as one of the few independent filmmakers who can tell a realistic Cuban-American story outside the studio system. That would be the 1979 comedy-drama "El Súper," about a homesick Cuban building superintendent in New York City. Mr. Ichaso, who was born in Cuba and left when he was 14, said he long ago gave up on Hollywood when it comes to Cuban stories.
"They have treated Cuba like ignorants, total ignorants, with their distorted, old-fashioned, exploitative version of who we are, our joys, our tragedy and our history," he said in a telephone interview.
The treatment of Cuba in Hollywood is not unlike the stereotypical way other countries and cultures have been represented in film for years, Mr. Ichaso said, citing the depiction of Native Americans in old westerns.
The difference is that other ethnic groups and nationalities in the United States can turn to their countries of birth for authentic narratives. Mexican-Americans, for example, have the recent and critically acclaimed "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mamá También."
But because of the political chasm between Cuba and the United States, for more than four decades very few of Cuba's films have been released in this country. When they are, they usually portray a reality filtered and approved by the Communist state, an unacceptable choice for people like Mr. Garcia who define themselves as exiles.
Mr. Garcia said that his experiences growing up in Cuba and Miami, deeply steeped in his family's stories, lend an air of truth to "The Lost City," which was eventually financed by Johnny O. López, a Cuban-American, and Tom T. Gores, a Palestinian immigrant, both executives at Platinum Equity, a global acquisitions firm in Los Angeles. "The Lost City" is their first film project.
"We got involved with Andy's project because we have something that draws us together, powerful experiences that we understand, that we have a sensitivity to," said Mr. López, who left Cuba in 1968, when he was 4. "The challenge for us is to be able to tell the story in a way that's compelling to those who see it but not too political. If it's seen as too political, it compromises the power of the story we want to tell, and we have a powerful story to tell."
In the Cuba of the 1950's, the Garcia family lived an enchanted life. His father, René, was a lawyer who ran a farm outside Havana. Mr. Garcia and his siblings grew up on that farm, and spent weekends and holidays in an oceanfront house in an exclusive neighborhood of Havana. But in 1961, fearful that the Castro government would take their children to be educated in the Soviet Union, a common belief at the time, the family left for Miami with $300 and a box of cigars.
"That first Christmas we didn't have enough to buy presents for the children," said Amelie Garcia, the actor's 83-year-old mother. "But the children never heard us complain about what we had lost, only about our longing to return."
"The Lost City," with a budget of $10 million and a screenplay by Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a Cuban exile novelist who lives in London, stars Mr. Garcia as the oldest brother, the owner of a cabaret; the other brothers are played by Nestor Carbonell, who played Luis in the television series "Suddenly Susan," and Enrique Murciano, a co-star of the CBS series "Without a Trace." The movie, filmed in the Dominican Republic last year, also features Bill Murray as an American writer witnessing the convulsive times at the onset of the Cuban revolution, and Dustin Hoffman as the mobster Meyer Lansky.
The film pays homage to Cuban music, one of Mr. Garcia's passions. But more than anything, it is a story about an impossible love, which, Mr. Garcia says, is "the central metaphor of an exile's life."
"The thing you most cherish, you can't have, so you find solace in the things that never betray you: your music, your family," said Mr. Garcia, who has been married to Marivi Lorido Garcia since 1982 and has four children.
Ask him if he ever dreams of living in Cuba again, and with his characteristic raspy, low voice, Mr. Garcia sighs and says: "Every day.. Every day."
Andrés Arturo García Menéndez—Andy Garcia to you—is one of Miami's favorite sons. He came here in exile at the age of five with his parents in 1961 during the Cuban Revolution, grew-up on Miami Beach, and went on to become one of Hollywood's greatest stars. A "local boy makes good" story, for sure.
But, although Garcia achieved great success with films such as The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, and most recently Oceans 11, with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, there was one story-line that burned in his soul; one elusive tale heyearnedto tell—the story of the Cuban Revolution and Havana in 1959.
Enter exiled Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante...
Garcia's new film, The Lost City, which he also produces and directs, is based in part on G. Cabrera Infante's novel Three Trapped Tigers, and portrays a love story set against the backdrop ofHavana's turbulent transformation from a lustful Caribbean destination filled with sex, gambling, and torrid nightlife under the corrupt Batista regime, to a repressive and puritanical Marxist society at the hands of Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara.
The story centers around the lives of three brothers of the Fellove family caught-up in the Revolution. Although the specific rolls are not yet finalized, the brothers will be played by Andy Garcia, Benjamin Bratt, and either Benicio Del Toro or Javier Bardem, depending on the two actors availability vis-à-vis previously committed projects. Filming has commenced in the Dominican Republic and will also begin in Miami this summer.
Dustin Hoffman starsas mobster Meyer Lansky, who, with the blessing of the monumentally corrupt Batista regime, spearheaded the Mafia's gambling and prostitution efforts in Havana's wild nightlife scene. Robert Duvall has signed-on to playthe head of Batista'ssecret police.
The film is billed as a Cuban love story; a story of "impossible love' under the harsh circumstances of armed social revolution. Our money is on Spanish beauty Ines Sastre to be the object of desire in the film's epic love story theme, and while you may not recognize her name, you'll instantly recognize her face if you've seen a recent Lancôme Trésor ad.
In the film, one of the Fellove family brothers becomes a Castro supporter and engages in clandestine terrorism on behalf of the Revolution until he is discovered by Batista loyalists.
Another brother, who also blindly believes in the ideals of the Revolution, joins Castro as a freedom fighter, but meets with a surprising fate once he realizes the Revolution is nothing more than the mis-guided scheme of a power-hungry future dictator.
Andy Garcia plays brother Fico Fellove, a Havana nightclub owner who remains neutral during the Revolution, only to see his life destroyed by Castro's repressive regime once its power is consolidated. Ultimately, he is driven from his homeland and forced to flee to New York to rebuild his life.
Garcia's film is a story-line I know all too well...
In the summer of 1976 as a young, aspiring airline pilot I found myself flying out of Miami's infamous "corrosion corner," a notorious haven for shady cargo operators, crooks, cheats—and coincidently, some of the bravest men of the 20th century—Cuban pilots who had flown in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
I flew mostly with Captain Luis Cosme, the dashing former Chief of Air Operations in the invasion, but it tookmany monthsbefore I realizedLuis was involved in the invasion—he rarely spoke of it. Rather,it was the memory of Havana's pre-Castro 1950's golden era that gushed from his soul.
As our ancient DC-6 droned away across the oceans night after night, Luis would speak with fiery eyes about the music and the nightlife of his beloved Havana. Many nights I'd lean forward in the Flight Engineer's seat and listen to his vibrant storiesabout people and places of Havana that soon became real to me. Places like the Tropicana, the Casino Parisien at the Hotel Nacional, and the Floridita Bar where "the American writer" was often seen—my first introduction to Ernest Hemingway.The stories would always end with a somber "but that was before Castro."
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