A Film to Listen To
The wonderful Afro-Cuban soundtrack of “Mambo Man” makes this a film to listen to. The story that goes with it is pretty thin— an impresario-farmer-get-rich-quick-schemer is the main character in Edesio Alejandro’s new film.
JC (Hector Noas) is the godfather of the East Cuban music scene but we never see him pick up an instrument. He is just finishing an album with music producer Mo Fini (playing himself). One day, his childhood friend Roberto returns to Cuba from Ecuador and offers JC a great opportunity. The matriarch of a family he knows has to sell her collection of jewelry to pay for her transit to Miami for $50,000. We suspect that this is a deal that is too good to be true.
The film is a very cleaned-up look at the oppressed and depressed Cuban society. The rich and rhythmic soundtrack includes such notable artists as Juan De Marcos Gonzalez & the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Eliades Ochoa, and Omara Portuondo, Arturo Jorge, Julio Montoro Y Alma Latina, and Candido Fabre. Sometimes the music is peppy and upbeat, other times it is elegant and it always sounds great.
Noas is wonderful as JC, but he is also something of a caricature. There’s something exotic about Cuba for Americans probably because the rules and restrictions have kept most of us away. “Mambo Man” allows viewers to see the country’s landscapes as well as the lifestyles of Cubans.
JC is a Cuban farmer and music producer who seems to be involved in nearly every business in his small town—but none of them are profitable. Everyone knows him and every musician in town respects him for his contributions. However, he’s run out of money, and he’s becoming desperate to provide for his family. JC hesitates about the deal at first but then decides to take a chance on it get out of debt for good.
As JC and his driver, David (Alejandro Palomino), travel from the farm, through the countryside, to the market, to the big city, we get a glimpse of life in Cuba. This isn’t the glamorous Cuba of mobsters and old Hollywood stars. It’s a place where Cubans just can’t seem to make ends meet. JC’s farm equipment is falling apart, the crops are failing, and it seems that everyone who has the drive to work has already left for Miami.
Yet, this isn’t a desolate, depressing Cuba. As JC tries to hustle his way through a deal that promises to fix all of his problems, the film also shows the life and vibrancy of the country, its streets, and its people. It’s a dynamic, film filled with color and busy markets, lively clubs, friendly outdoor cafes, classic Cuban music.