Urban Cinefile
"I remember seeing Robert Wagner on fire in The Towering Inferno. Its kind of cathartic. "  -Tim Burton, director, Mars Attacks!
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday July 12, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Ry Cooder and Wim Wenders have known each other for 20 years, and worked together on the feature films Paris Texas and The End of Violence. Cooder enthused Wenders with his experiences in Cuba, and wanted to record an album with veteran Ibrahim Ferrer, and all the musos who played on the Grammy winning Buena Vista Social Club album of 1997. This time Wenders a small film crew accompanied Cooder to Cuba, to record the 'members' of that old club, musos who had started out playing in what is now a dilapidated old house in Havana, which once resounded to their fabulous music.

"Character laden faces and character laden music is what you get in this low-tech, high value documentary about some of Cuba's most revered and most forgotten musicians. Ry Cooder's name alone guaranteed my enjoyment, but for those of you unfamiliar with any of this, rest assured it's gentle and warm and human and generous. It aint rock n' roll, but it aint half hearted, either. The musos that are brought out of retirement are old enough to take us through photo albums of the early decades of this century, but their collective experience and talent provide enough firepower to propel the 101 minutes with ease. Playing and singing in the famous Cuban sway rhythms that stay in your head and your heart with their complex timpani structures, the doco is strong on heart and humanity, if short on pictorial quality. Shot on DigiBetacam, the video source is forever obvious, but what it lacks in picture quality it makes up in content. It's a series of mini concerts and recordings, as well as a pastiche of personal profiles, and a celebration of a music that is totally captivating. In the process, the film reminds us of the enormous riches to be found in the life experience - and musicianship - of many older folk. It'll surprise you."
Andrew L. Urban

"Profoundly moving and filled with all the passion and colours of Cuban rhythms, Buena Vista Social Club is a celebration of life in an unforgettable, unique musical journey. Music is the pulse it is as natural and spontaneous as life itself its constantly evolving motion replicated cinematically. Images of Havana's narrow streets, the textures, the nuances, the poverty, the lifestyle, the spontaneity and joy of living are at one with the music. Through Ry Cooder, we meet the musicians whose lives are etched deep on their faces. Perfect pitch and subtle execution make it look so easy. We are humbled by their stories. And together they create music that feeds the soul. Among them, we meet Ibrahim Ferrer, a 71 year old Cuban Nat King Cole, Ruben Gonzalez, 80, with fingers that dance vivaciously on the ivories, Compay Segundo at 92 has been puffing on cigars since he started lighting them for his grandmother 87 years ago. They've not had an easy ride, and at an average age of 70, they may not fit your idea of music idols. But successful they are; they are equally at home singing in the poverty stricken streets, as they are in Carnegie Hall. After all, it's not about anything except the music. It's rhythmic, laid-back and coated with romance and passion. This is not a glossy Hollywood production but a guts 'n all encounter with extraordinary talented characters that we will never forget. From Amsterdam to Havana and New York City, we are privy to an experience of a lifetime. Music from the heart, Buena Vista Social Club is a hugely enjoyable and energetic jam; a confirmation that the magic of dreams can come true."
Louise Keller

"So there I am, not really a fan of this kind of music, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up before the opening credits have finished. If you like the music you'll be in heaven watching this lovingly crafted account of an extraordinary musical event. Even if you're not, the touching stories of these dignified oldies who've still got what it takes will have you converted by the end. This is a wonderfully uplifting musical treasure hunt, with Cooder cast as explorer discovering lost magic and generously keeping a low profile while the rejuvenated veterans strut their stuff. Scenes of modern day Havana, looking like run-down 1950's America, add to the poignancy of forgetten men (and Omara Portuondo, the group's only female member) reclaiming the spotlight in such style. There are no big egos or dramas here; just a joyous celebration of music and the spirit of those who make it."
Richard Kuipers

Email this article

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


FEATURING: Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzales, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa

DIRECTOR: Wim Wenders

PRODUCERS: Ulrich Felsberg, Deepak Nayar

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 1999

Audience Award, 1999 Edinburgh Film Festival
Best Documentary, 1999 Melbourne Film festival
Best Documentary, 1999 Noosa Film Festival

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018