(Photo: Louis Gossett Jr and Ana Golja in ‘The Cuban.’ Source: TheCubanMovie.com)
So where are the Lifetime Achievement Awards for Louis Gossett Jr?
Over his 60+-year career, the now-84-year-old living legend has won an Oscar for playing Sgt. Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and an Emmy for Fiddler in ABC’s Roots (1977).
Just yesterday, Gossett received his 11th Emmy nomination (eight primetime, three daytime) for playing Hooded Justice on last year’s HBO series Watchmen. And starting this Friday, July 31, he can be seen in a mesmerizing performance as Luis, an 80-year-old dementia patient, in The Cuban, a feature film premiering in Canadian drive-ins and American virtual theaters.
When we first meet Luis in a Canadian nursing home, he’s catatonic. Enter Mina, played by Ana Golja (Zoe in several Degrassi series). Mina’s a 19-year-old pre-med student, nursing home worker and Afghan immigrant who becomes obsessed with Luis (indeed, director Sergio Navarretta never shows Mina with another patient).
Soon, Mina helps Luis break through by breaking the medical facility’s rules: She brings him home-cooked food to evoke his native Cuba, and, most significantly, entertains the former musician by playing the Cuban jazz of his younger days. In helping Luis, Mina breaks through her own sheltered state.
In a somewhat contrived twist, Mina’s Afghan parents had been big fans of this genre of music when she was a child, so she knows the territory. Still, this backstory works because The Cuban is all about the power of music, which knows no boundaries.
As Luis starts hearing the Cuban jazz, Gossett undergoes an amazing transformation from a totally blank look…to a look of recognition…to happiness. The first time he breaks into a wide smile, you’re sure to be smiling yourself.
During a recent online panel run by the Forum on Life, Culture and Society (FOLCS), Gossett said he based his awakenings on Robert de Niro’s Oscar-winning performance of a man coming out of a catatonic state in Awakenings (1990). Here’s that moment, with Robin Williams playing the doctor:
While the powers that be at Luis’ nursing home seem little aware of the power of music to awaken hidden memories, it’s far from a new idea, even in the movies. We were reminded of The Music Never Stopped (2011), which, like Awakenings, was based on a non-fiction work by neurologist Oliver Sacks. In the film, music of the late ‘60s, especially the Grateful Dead, helps a father (JK Simmons) bond with his brain-damaged son (Lou Taylor Pucci). Julia Ormond plays a music therapist:
Sacks even appeared in a 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, about how music can revitalize Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients:
During the FOLCS session, director Navarretta remembered going to a concert by the Canadian band Spirit of the West, whose lead singer John Mann had early-onset Alzheimer’s: “He was brought on stage completely catatonic. As soon as he heard the music, he snapped into his old self.” The story of Spirit of the West’s final tour is told in Spirit Unforgettable, a 2016 documentary:
Navarretta said The Cuban was screened for the head of a foundation at Toronto’s Baycrest Hospital. ‘I’ll never look at a patient walking down the halls of this hospital [the same way] again,” Navarretta recalled the executive saying. “Everybody has a story.”
The Cuban’s accomplished cast also includes Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar nominee as Nadi in House of Sand and Fog, 2003) as Mina’s mother; Lauren Holly (Mary in Dumb and Dumber, 1994; Jenny in CBS’ NCIS, 2005-2015) as a by-the-books head nurse; and Giacomo Gianniotti (Dr. DeLuca on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, 2015-2020) as Mina’s love interest.
The entire ensemble, combined with the frenetic beat of Cuban music – recalling Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and The Mambo Kings (1992) – drives the film toward a conclusion where the dreams of both Luis and Mina are fulfilled.
“I get rewarded when I have a positive influence,” Gossett told the FOLCS session. “That makes my day.”
We’d suggest making your day with The Cuban starting this Friday, July 31.
Where to stream the movies highlighted above
For The Cuban, go to TheCubanMovie.com/showtimes, select a theater near you, and buy a $12 virtual ticket. In addition to seeing the movie, you’ll get admission to a live Q&A on Saturday, August 1, at 7 pm ET, with Gossett, Navarretta, Golja and the film’s writer, Alessandra Piccione.
Spirit Unforgettable is not streaming in the US.
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