- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Actor Andy Garcia found vindication for his 16-year struggle to make “The Lost City” from an unlikely source.

The “Ocean’s Eleven” star was taking a taxi in New York City recently when he struck up a chat with his Ugandan driver.

When the man heard the actor was in town to promote a film about Cuban exiles he said, “That’s my story.”

“It’s not just about the Cuban experience,” Mr. Garcia said during a recent stop in the District to talk up the film. “It’s like saying ‘The Godfather’ was only made for mafiosos.”

Mr. Garcia, 50, tried to tap into what he calls the “universal feelings” felt by all exiles, but his film remains a deeply personal statement.

“The Lost City” was written by the late Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante and is an epic set to a blazing Cuban soundtrack, courtesy of one Andy Garcia, himself a skilled musician and composer.

The actor-director plays Fico Fellove, a Havana nightclub owner who strives to stay apolitical at the dawn of the Castro revolution. Political schisms shatter his family despite his best efforts. Eventually, Fico watches as the corrupt Fulgencio Batista gives way to Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime and later decides his only chance for happiness may lie in leaving his homeland.

Early reviews have been spotty at best, and the film’s unfocused narrative will exasperate some. But it’s Mr. Garcia’s passion — and that glorious music — that will imprint on audiences.

The actor’s own family left Cuba when he was 5, unwilling to live under the Castro regime.

“It quickly became evident to me we might not be going back,” says Mr. Garcia, whose family found a new home in a Cuban exile community in Miami. “The memories I had became very precious to me. There is a profound nostalgia for what you leave behind.”

Fico’s fictional story is one that played out throughout Cuba in the late 1950s, Mr. Garcia says. But to hear the actor tell it, the public remains confused, if not misled, on that chapter in Cuban history.

“You get tired of trying to explain to people what really went down,” says Mr. Garcia, citing, for example, film critics who’ve argued his film ignores the peasant perspective. “The Cuban revolution wasn’t a peasant uprising,” he says. “It was led by and financed by the middle class. It was an intellectual revolution. … They were embarrassed by the lack of pluralism in the government.”

Mr. Garcia isn’t frustrated that the film took so long to come together. Nor does he display any anger over Hollywood’s lack of interest in telling the full story of the Castro regime.

“History is history,” says Mr. Garcia, his voice husky from promotion. “It is a naive point of view to think that Castro is a humanitarian. How he continues to get support in the world, that’s baffling to me. But that’s not the motivation of the movie. It’s to celebrate the culture of Cuba.”

Mr. Garcia marked time in forgettable television fare before his breakout role as one of “The Untouchables” (1987).

The actor’s olive skin and dark features made him an ideal leading man, a role he embraced in “Desperate Measures,” “Black Rain” and “The Godfather: Part III,” which netted him an Oscar nomination.

Mr. Garcia’s coiled energy gave life to smaller projects, too, from the addiction romance “When a Man Loves a Woman” to the documentary he directed celebrating musician-bandleader Israel Lopez, “Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos!”

His less commercial choices may have sunk any chance for stardom, but they also ensured steady employment through the years.

It took 35 days and just under $10 million to shoot what Mr. Garcia calls his “life’s work,” but the show must go on. He’ll step before the camera to shoot “Ocean’s 13” later this year, but his immediate slate is empty.

It’s taking all of his energies to promote “The Lost City,” an effort tinged with the loss of Mr. Infante, who died last year.

“He never saw it in a theater,” Mr. Garcia said. “That is the tragedy.”

Some critics have carped over “The Lost City’s” running time — it clocks in at nearly two and a half hours.

Mr. Garcia says he wouldn’t change a minute of it now.

“This movie’s story was only going to be told once, and it took me 16 years to tell it,” he said.

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