Buena Vista Social Club: Adiós Review
With the re-opening of relations between Cuba and America along with the death of Fidal Castro and the last tour for the Buenos Vista Social Club planned, releasing a sequel to the 1999 Oscar nominated documentary appeared to make sense. Renowned documentarian Lucy Walker was eager to bring her passion for Cuban music and culture to the project by connecting the political history of the country with the music, an element sorely missing from the first film. Unfortunately the version we see now is not the film Walker wanted to make due to significant changes made in the final cut that were taken out of her hands.
Walker remains director in name, if little else, and in its current state Buena Vista Social Club: Adios adds little to the Wim Wenders film. Given the behind the scenes drama that occurred during production the finished version looks closer to a salvage job than anything else. Much of the time is spent showing previously unseen footage shot during the recording of the album and the one-off Amsterdam concert that brought all the musicians together for the first time since the studio. The style and tone feels identical to the first film and you may wonder how they are going to fill 105 minutes if outtakes collected from the cutting room floor is the main source of material.
Many of the musicians involved in the multi-platinum selling album were in the latter stages of their careers and lives and in the intervening years a number have since passed away. Compay Segundo and pianist Rubén González both died in the early 00s, shortly followed by vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer. American guitarist, Ry Cooder, the man who brought these legendary Cuban artists together the first time round, seems to have distanced himself from this sequel altogether. The middle section of the film reflects back on the circumstances that allowed these greats to collaborate on the album, offering brief recollections of their careers and their place in Cuban musical history.
With Wenders credited only as an executive producer, Cooder completely out of the picture and a director unaware of when the film was due to be released, there is little love, or need for this film to exist, other than to fulfil an obligation. At the very least this time there is some context provided on the political movements that are inherently connected to Cuban music over the past century. The opening titles quickly run through a brief musical and social history of the country, occasionally complemented by BVSC member Juan de Marcos González. In truth, there is little coherence to how this has been pieced together and Buena Vista Social Club: Adiós plays like the production story that went on behind the scenes; chaotic, disorganised and released without anywhere near enough thought and care.