The Cuban Director Says Music Is Medicine

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<em>The Cuban</em> Director Says Music Is Medicine

by Landon Johnson 28 August, 2020

It has been said that music has a healing quality. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a theme of resurgence that echoes throughout director Sergio Navarretta’s The Cuban.

Shot against a picturesque Havana landscape, The Cuban is a radiant melting pot of culture enriched with themes of human connection.

With an Afro-Cuban jazz-infused soundtrack, Navarretta tells the story of nineteen-year-old Mina (Ana Golja), who after relocating from Afghanistan to live with her aunt (Shohreh Aghdashloo) to study to become a doctor, gets a job at a nursing home.  Here, Mina forms a strong connection with one of the Alzheimer’s patients, Luis (Louis Gossett Jr), a once-famous Cuban musician. 

Together, the two bond over their shared love of music. Navarretta gives us vibrant flashbacks to Luis’s memories. Nonetheless, the two, who at very different stages in life, find they have more in common than just emotionally charged memories of music. Recently, ScreenPicks caught up with Navarretta on a drive-in tour in Canada, and here is what we learned.

Q: What made you want to tell this beautiful story of these two people at opposite stages in life?

Navarretta: The impetus was really my father. I noticed there is a gap in our generations, and a disconnect with elders. Also, whether it’s Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia, it’s always interesting to challenge the idea of reality. Part of the message in the movie is to honor whatever it is that we experience. So, I deliberately chose to show his memories or fantasies in a certain way. Whether it’s an Alzheimer’s patient’s memory or there with you in the same room, it’s sort of the same thing to them. The medical community also needs to catch up and not look at people as just a number.

Q: Was it always going to be about Alzheimer’s?

Navarretta: It was always going to be about an Alzheimer’s patient because of my personal connection or experience to it through an aunt. One time, I visited her and she thought I was a WWII solider, and that was very real for her. I was also interested in the research behind the effects of music on the brain.

Q: What made you want to shine the spotlight on the Cuban culture?

Navarretta: I had many debates with my father over his obsession with Cuba. So, part of me was wanting to explore that for myself. And also, just loving Cuban Jazz music. Music really has the ability to lift one’s spirits. If you look at Afro-Cuban jazz it’s very representative of a very unique culture of people from all over the world, but they see themselves as Cuban first.

Q: It was interesting to see how differently all the characters were affected by the music in the film. It was almost as if music was a type of medicine?

Navarretta: All the characters orbit around the power of music. Ultimately, it’s a coming-of-age story. He’s able to give her the gift of appreciating her artistic talent, and she gives him his last hoorah. I think the idea of that is so beautiful. The idea of death is so absolute; Considering your own mortality is tough. He’s able to express himself one last time. You never want to go with music still in you. You want to make sure you get all your music out before you go.

The Cuban is available on VOD today!