Spirits of Havana anything but spirited

By Jen Anthony

This film should be called Two Canadians in Cuba rather than Spirits of Havana, because that’s pretty much what this documentary is about. It follows one of Canada’s leading sax players, Jane Bunnett, as she travels throughout Cuba playing with various local bands and artists. Some compare this movie to its predecessor The Buena Vista Social Club but unfortunately this Canadian-made film falls short of the mark. The minimal interaction with the actual Cuban musicians involved on the record makes for a shallow trip.

In Spirits of Havana, the cinematographer does a great job of panning the scene as the groups play, and even goes so far as to show onlookers jiggling their asses. The importance of this footage is unclear though. Instead of showing it briefly, the ass shot is magnified and held for awhile.

After the jam session we’re privy to a very brief interview with one of the many musicians. The next thing you know, it’s back on the road heading somewhere else with Bunnett and her sidekick husband Larry Cramer. Unfortunately, they neglect to show much of the Cuban landscape or people. Other than brief flashes of Coca-Cola ads, buff couples on the beach, a large fat man wearing a Speedo and pigs strapped onto bikes, we’re left guessing what Cuban life is really like. There’s so much potential to show a variety of Cuban settings or scenes but instead we’re shown countless images of Bunnett on the bus.

The most tense moment of the film comes when Bunnett and her husband stay at a beachside resort. Bunnett’s sax and flute go missing! She cries, stressful moments ensue which are characterized by long silences and conspiratorial whispers. The police are even brought in. Right when you think the movie must surely be over because she can’t play without her sax and flute, a maid finds them. Somehow, they magically appear in the hotel, and you’re left with one of two thoughts: either Bunnett’s not very intelligent or this was staged–something the film crew did in an attempt to add excitement to the film.

To give credit to the film, the music is good. The fusion of so many different sounds make it quite rich, and Bunnett is an amazing sax player. But if you wanted to hear good music you would buy a CD, not go to a movie. The music is really the only reason someone would want to see this film, seeing as the cinematography was nil and the idea behind it was weak. Two Canadians in Cuba do not make a movie.