Buena Vista Social Club

on June 04, 1999 by Wade Major
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One of the most beautiful and poetic documentaries ever made, "Buena Vista Social Club" marks master director Wim Wenders' return to a form of which he was once considered a pioneer. Even by the standards of Wenders' earlier docs, however, "Buena Vista Social Club" is a milestone, a loving portrait of the Cuban music legends that composer/musician Ry Cooder reassembled some years back for the hit album of the same name.
The film's structure is beguilingly simple, using the group's historic Amsterdam and Radio City Music Hall concerts as the backbone of a unique musical odyssey, taking audiences into the heart of the humble Cuban neighborhoods where the music was born. As Wenders painstakingly profiles each of the legendary talents--including 80-year-old pianist Ruben Gonzalez, 95-year-old guitarist/singer Compay Segundo, velvet-voiced Ibrahim Ferrer and latin chanteuse Omara Portuondo--sounds, images, music and a powerful sense of humanity converge to form an intoxicating sensory fabric--music that is meant to be lived, not merely heard.
What is especially charming is that the film is as much a journey for its subjects--many of whom are in their 70s, 80s and 90s--as for its audience. Their childlike bliss at having been rediscovered in the twilight years of their lives, the wide-eyed wonder with which they greet their first trip to New York and their profound gratitude at receiving yet another chance to share their beloved music with the world, help create a narrative as emotional and affecting as anything in a mainstream Hollywood offering.
Wenders' second collaboration with producer Deepak Nayar (following 1997's "The End of Violence" and preceding their forthcoming "Million Dollar Hotel") is also noteworthy for its superlative production values, settin have been a gargantuan mass of footage, splendidly syncopating the film's visuals in step with its musical rhythms. Oscar-caliber sound recording of the live performances, coupled with a spectacularly rich sound mix, provide the cherry atop this enriching and rewarding musical feast. Starring Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Rubén Gonzalez, Pio Leyva, Manuel "Puntillita" Licea, Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo. Directed by Wim Wenders. Produced by Deepak Nayar and Ulrich Felsberg. An Artisan release. Documentary. English and Spanish-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 105 min.
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