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American films

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios film review – iconic Cuban musicians revisited in documentary sequel

Fans of both Cuban music and Wim Wenders’ popular 1999 concert film on which this sequel is based will no doubt get great pleasure from Adios as it expands their knowledge and love of ‘son’, Cuba’s unique sound

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 7:05am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 7:04am

3.5/5 stars

Part documentary, party elegy and part film about a film, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios updates viewers on the story of the Cuban musicians who featured in Wim Wenders’ popular 1999 concert film Buena Vista Social Club. Directed by Lucy Walker and executive-produced by Wenders, the follow-up is a very different kind of movie to the original.

Wenders, maker of evocative art-house features such as Wings of Desire, is a poetic director, and his 1999 film was an impressionistic take on Cuban music. Walker’s update, made almost 20 years later, sets the historical context of the music and musicians, and documents the making of the original movie.

It works very well. Fans of both Wenders’ movie and of Cuban music – and in particular of the 1996 Grammy award-winning Buena Vista Social Club album initiated by US guitarist Ry Cooder on which the original film is based – will find it expands their knowledge and love of son, Cuba’s unique sound.

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Using interviews and archive footage, Walker establishes the roots of son in the European music that arrived with the Spanish settlers, and the African styles which their slaves brought with them. She also tries to find the location of the building that served as the social club, which was a music venue for blacks in racially segregated, pre-revolution Cuba – although the locals can’t remember where it stood.

Walker talks to members of the musical troupe about their life stories and musical careers, with feisty singer Omara Portuondo – who is still performing at age 87 – evincing a life-affirming philosophy based on her years in music. The final part of the film highlights members of the ageing troupe who have died since 1999.

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios opens on March 15

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