Prod co: ADR Productions. Co-prod: Le Studio Canal Plus. Domestic dist: Pyramide. Int'l sales: Le Studio Canal Plus (+33 1 4443 9839). Prod: Alain Rozanes, Pascal Verroust, Jacques Debs. Scr: Pascal Letellier, Karim Dridi. DoP: Karim Dridi. Editor: Lise Beaulieu. Main cast/Music: Miguel del Morales, Candido Fabre, Mirta Gonzales, Alejandro Almenares, Pepin Vaillant, Anibal Avila.
The careers of a group of elderly Cuban musicians are revived and relaunched by a playful documentary, shot in fly-on-the-wall style on the streets of Havana and other cities, with a soundtrack designed to go straight to CD.
Sounds familiar' You bet it is. In fact, Cuba Feliz is so identical in style and inspiration to Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club that, for all its superficial handheld charm, it is impossible not to question its sincerity. The exercise may even alienate the very audience it appears to be fishing for, as the quality of the music just isn't up to the standard of Compay Segundo and the Buena Vista crew.
Main focus of the film is guitarist Miguel de Morales, otherwise known as El Gallo - the cockerel. El Gallo has an etched, lived-in face that the camera dwells on endlessly as he wanders around Cuba in pursuit of a recording contract. This should - according to the production notes - read 'in pursuit of a dream' - but it's never made clear what this is, and the voyage lacks the satisfying Commitments-style plot drive of Buena Vista, where a band is gradually assembled piece by piece.
Along the way, El Gallo meets some likeable characters and jams with musicians of variable quality - the best of whom is an inconveniently young trumpeter, Anibal Avila. Occasionally, there are moments of improvised brilliance that have us smiling; just as often, though, we are distracted by a feeling that the spontaneity has been set up. Cuba Feliz was made on digital video - which meant that over a hundred hours of footage could be shot using a crew of just three, including the sound recordist. Perhaps the most assured aspect of the film is its cinematography, which uses the limitations and colour palette of the new medium to good effect.
And as a document of Cuban street life and Cuban exuberance, it certainly saves on the price of a plane ticket. But don't expect that Buena Vista uplift, and don't bother buying the CD.