Buena Vista Social Club Review

Image for Buena Vista Social Club

This documentary traces guitarist Ry Cooder's collaboration with a troup of veteran Cuban musicians.


Buena Vista Social Club was a Grammy-winning 1996 Ry Cooder album, which has since given its name to the band of musicians he employed to make it although, considering the age of most concerned, they are perhaps better suited to the Cuban epithet "Super-Abuelos" (the super grandads). Cooder was so enamoured of the musicians that, while scoring Wim Wenders' The End Of Violence, he passed on the bug to the director, who asked if he could document Cooder's return trip to the island for a follow-up session.

What Wenders found is a musical education for pupils of all ages, but beneath its rich soundtrack it also paints a very human picture, using such characters as Ruben Gonzalez - an 80-year-old pianist, beautifully captured playing free-form while a children's ballet class rehearses around him - and Compay Segundo, now 92, with a voice like Nat King Cole.

Given stars like these, nobody needs actors and so Wenders is left free to effortlessly transfer the magic of sound to the medium of moving pictures. Apart from the studios, homes and other locales of Havana, the ensemble are also filmed performing in Amsterdam and New York and, in one memorably touching moment, strolling the Big Apple's streets slack-jawed in joy and amazement.

So much more than a stream of talking heads, Wenders delivers a fly-on-the-wall/Steadicam viewpoint that allows us to enjoy seeing old-timers reeling back the years through the simple pleasure of singing and playing, doing what comes naturally.

Spend two hours in Cuba without going near a cigar and be utterly addicted.