La Tropical

(David Turnley, USA, 2002)


David Turnley's La Tropical is a gem. A black-and-white documentary on Cuba's Salon Rosado de la Tropical nightclub, it resembles a mixture of Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club (1999) with the lyrical film and photography of Bruce Weber.

Throwing all squeamish political correctness to the wind, Turnley delves into the almost primal working class culture of this club. Eroticism is everywhere, but the difficult social conditions of socialist Cuba are never far away.

In heartbreaking vignettes, the film encapsulates the contradictions in the lives of people who are born to dance, but may never leave their ghetto.

From the viewpoint of musical documentary, La Tropical is sometimes patchy and rudimentary – sound and image do not always match, and Turnley overdoes slow-motion for poetic effect – but the glimpses, on stage or off, of acts including Los Van Van and Benny Santos have an intimacy and immediacy that is hard to beat.

© Adrian Martin February 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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