The Cuban is the third feature film from director Sergio Navarretta. It stars the legendary Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. as Luis Garcia, a man living with Alzheimer’s who forms a connection with Mina, a young woman (Anna Golja), who realizes music triggers Luis’ memories. She uses music to break him out of his episodes of dementia while creating moments of lucidity and joy.
The Cuban starts with Luis in a long-term care facility where he is withdrawn, no appetite and with little activity in his life. When Mina is assigned to work with him, she thinks there has to be another way to get him to engage. She soon discovers he is Cuban and that he once was a musician. With this information at hand, Mina sets out to bring music into his life along with other parts of Luis’ Cuban heritage in an attempt to have him reconnect with himself and his history.
Mina befriends and falls in love with Kris, a grad student (Giacomo Gianniotti), who happens to conveniently be studying psychology. A little too convenient perhaps but it works. He helps Mina find some of Luis’ musical friends from his past as a musician.
Both Mina and Kris manage to bring more music into Luis’ life. Mina even cooks Cuban food for him to enhance Luis’ memories. The intentions are good, but there is a scene that is bittersweet when they take Luis to a Cuban night club / lounge and he loses sense of where he is. This scene hits home for those of us who have relatives living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Anything out of the individual’s routine can cause distress, and this is what happens with Luis. Aside from this, it is lovely to see the connection between Luis and Mina – as well as, seeing the importance of music, culture and compassion are for the elderly living with dementia/Alzheimer’s.
Alongside this main story, we learn that Mina was born in Afghanistan. She was sent to North America to live with her aunt (Shohreh Aghdashloo), so she could be away from war and also have access to education. Her aunt of course does not approve of Mina’s ideas to help Luis nor of her relationship with Kris. This side story is important, in my opinion, as it shows the generational differences between older and younger relatives who are both born elsewhere. Mina strives to ‘follow her dreams’, while her aunt constantly reminds her of the importance of education and hard work. For many of us, this is relatable and it is also important to see depicted on-screen.
As music is central to the film, I cannot forget to mention the great soundtrack composed by multi Juno Award winner and Grammy nominated artist, Hilario Durán. The music brings Luis and the audience to Cuba, its people and energy. Throughout the film there is original music but also some classic Cuban songs. A total treat for the senses.
Films like The Cuban, which highlight issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia, are important because these are problems afflicting many in the aging population. In the film, music from Luis’ past helps him connect to his memories in a way to reconnect with himself. It is important to note that the film’s writer (Alessandra Piccione) consulted with doctors who work with Alzheimer’s and dementia, who also recognize the power of music in making connections between memories and emotions in these patients.
The Cuban is a touching story of a compassionate friendship that grows through music. This film is incredibly timely, especially as the world has its eyes on the realities of long-term care. Highly recommended for all audiences from young to older adults.
Hear more about the film and the making of the film in my conversation with director, Sergio Navarreta on my Soundcloud channel.