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3 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Buena Vista Social Club
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by iF Magazine

"A spare elegant style that Wenders hasn't displayed in years."
4 stars

This isn't a film about a bunch of bridge playing senior citizens as the title may suggest. Instead it is a remarkable documentary about a bunch of amazingly talented senior citizen (mostly) Cuban musicians. It all began with a project started by music maestro Ry Cooder to go to Cuba round up all the legendary old time musicians he could find and cut a record. Director and world music lover Wim Wenders decided to tag along to document the historic occasion.

What they have created is something that is both a candid documentary about each musician and one of the best concert films in recent memory. And best of all you don't have to be versed in Cuban music or have any knowledge of the musicians to enjoy the film.

The first of the legendary performers featured is 90-year-old Compay Segundo, the inventor of a seven string guitar (called a trilana) who Cooder calls "the last of the best, the oracle, the source." Also included as part of the band-- among others-- are Ibrahim Ferrer a famous singer for over five decades, Ruben Gonzales jazz pianist extraordinaire who hadn't played for ten years, Eliades Ochoa an influential acoustical guitarist and Omara Portuondo sort of the Edith Piaf of Cuba.

Wender's editing style emphasizes cross cuts between concert footage in Amsterdam, recording footage in a Cuban studio and personal introductions to each member of the band. What's striking is that the music--at once humorously hopeful, poignant and sadóreally, ties into their lives. Wenders says of this stylistic choice, that "their music is so emotional and rich and so full of their life stories that you just cannot divide it up."

Wenders intercuts many street scenes in Havana showing the shabby less-than-perfect conditions of a country cut off for years from modernity. This is clearly shown when the musicians walk around their neighborhoods and then are shown later walking around New York with wide-eyed wonder. Ibrahim Ferrer says glancing up at skyscrapers, "Look at this place, I never could have imagined. I'm under the spell of this."

As is fashionable today--not to mention practical in this format--Wenders underscores this by shooting the entire documentary on a Digi-Beta Cam taking most shots with a steadicam. If anything, the documentary shows the quality of work that can be achieved on video based stock.

Overall the documentary has a spare elegant style that Wenders hasn't displayed in years. The film isn't really "directed" but stylistic choices were made and because of this I would say this is the best film Wenders has made in a decade. The music is so good that most will agree that purchasing the soundtrack is a must. ----- MATT LANGDON - Independent Film Magazine (http://ifmagazine.ifctv.com)

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1716&reviewer=119
originally posted: 06/19/99 02:05:17
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User Comments

7/30/05 yuko beautiful, spiritual, amazing artists 5 stars
10/14/04 R.W. Welch Really old, old timers of Cuban music talk and play. Interesting stuff. 4 stars
11/15/00 Chris Drake Grand musical stars glow in faded communist slums-saw a live performance,too. Bravo x 2! 4 stars
4/16/00 punkass This film contains the best percussion solo of all time. Lush to watch, tambien. 5 stars
2/29/00 Luke Williams - Film Student Not bad for what it is. 4 stars
2/11/00 Skye Chapman a movie with soul 5 stars
2/10/00 Danny & Sharon Viva la Cuba ...Best film at FILM FEST 99......10/10 5 stars
1/08/00 Matthew Temple Not much Wim, plenty of rhythm, sun and nostalgic glimpse of the 20th Con and history 5 stars
11/19/99 Alan Lawrencw, D.C. Emotional, entertaining, inspiring, magical 5 stars
10/06/99 Heather Great movie, it opens a rarely opened window of Cuba, the duet was worth $7 5 stars
8/14/99 sissy sent me into an orgy of CD consumption. 5 stars
8/03/99 Howard Herscovici Spell binding 5 stars
7/16/99 JJ Great story, but Wenders should have invested in a light meter. 4 stars
7/09/99 bridgette very informative to say the least. the music is awesome, naturally. 4 stars
7/02/99 Miguel Machalski Nice to see a camera fiming beauty without a single gimmick, manipulative trickery or SFX.. 5 stars
6/20/99 Kenneth Yas Wenders directs this film with an effortless grace and sense of mission. 5 stars
6/14/99 Mr Variety Most everyone with a pulse will get into this club 5 stars
6/03/99 Mr BoxOffice One of the most beautiful and poetic documentaries ever made. 5 stars
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