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    You wanna play the horn, right?
    You gotta play the game!
        -For Love or Country

If a character in the movie The Player were pitching For Love or Country, he would describe it thus :  it's the Sound of Music, but set in Cuba.  Indeed, this gross oversimplification manages to capture some important aspects of the film.  Arturo Sandoval, like the von Trapps, is a real life musician--a renowned jazz trumpeter--who fled a repressive regime and whose flight was complicated by concerns for family.  But the differences are also important, and they serve to give this picture a depth and resonance that make it wholly worthwhile in its own right.

First, where the Nazis are so notorious as to immediately invoke our sympathy for the von Trapps, there has been a disturbing tendency in America to glamorize Fidel Castro and to minimize the crimes of his regime, right from the very beginning of the Revolution and the absurdly favorable profiles that the New York Times published in the late 50s.  In a grotesque irony, this film was actually made during the whole Elian Gonzalez mess, when a significant portion of the American public, and a majority of the intellectual class, argued that a young boy, whose mother died trying to get him to freedom, should be returned to live in Castro's dictatorship.  One of the fascinations of For Love or Country is that it gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of regular Cuban citizens and shows the spirit crushing effects of Communism on their lives.  And it powerfully demonstrates the illegitimacy of a political system which is so bent on controlling the minds of its citizenry that even certain rebellious forms of music are outlawed.  In one of the best scenes, Sandoval's wife, Marianela, asks an official for permission for her husband to play straightforward jazz, rather than just the distinctively latin jazz that he has helped pioneer in the band Irakere.  The Party leader ominously warns her not to say something she'll regret and admonishes her that the Revolution needs everyone's' support to survive.  In turn, she asks :

    If the Revolution can't withstand...a Cuban man playing the music he loves, why bother trying to
    save it ?

What lends this scene its particular power is that, where Arturo has always harbored doubts about the Revolution and has refused to join the Party, Marianela has been a firm defender and has acted as a brake on his desire to rebel and even to flee.  This dynamic, of Arturo being forced to choose between his love for his wife and his yearning to be free to play his own music, gives the story its great drama.  In general, the scenes showing how difficult a choice it is for people to defect, to love family, friends, and homeland behind, are genuinely affecting, and should serve as a tonic for anyone who questions the motivations and commitment of refugees who seek our shores.

Added to the strong political themes are a hopefully career reviving performance by Andy Garcia, once one of Hollywood's hottest young stars; a dynamic star turn by Charles S. Dutton as Dizzy Gillespie; and, of course, a terrific soundtrack.  Unfortunately, this movie, though it won several awards, was only shown on cable, but now that it is available on a budget priced DVD, perhaps it will find the wider audience it so richly deserves.  I hope so, though I tend to doubt it.  But there is a consolation; at the end of the movie you somehow feel a little bit prouder to be an American, just knowing what the Sandovals went through to become Americans themselves.

(Reviewed:18-Jun-01)

Grade: (A)

Websites:

See also:

    -AturoSandoval.com
    -INFO : For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story (2000) (TV) (Imdb)
    -INFO : For Love or Country (HBO)
    -Arturo Sandoval (Rolling Stone)
    -INTERVIEW : Arturo Sandoval, Cuban Jazz Trumpter (Dominick A. Miserandino, 4 December, 1999, Celebrity Cafe)
    -INTERVIEW : The Many Sides of Arturo Sandoval (Jason Koransky, Rolling Stone)
    -PROFILE : Arturo Sandoval (Impacto)
    -ARTICLE : Premiere of For Love or Country (Desiree Borbon, Terra)
    -ARTICLE : Cuban Musician Arturo Sandoval's Story is no Puff Piece (Terry Jackson, Knight Ridder Newspapers)
    -ARTICLE : Garcia steps into cuban exile's shoes for film (James Endrst, Hartford Courant)
    -ARCHIVES : Arturo Sandoval (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW :  Cuban exile faces hurdles in HBO drama (Tom Long, Detroit News
    -REVIEW : Sandoval's story depicts love for his country (Ricardo Baca, Corpus Christi Caller-Times)
    -REVIEW : of For Love or Country (Amazing Colossal)
    -DVD REVIEW : of For Love or Country (Wade Major, Box Office)
    -AWARDS : ALMA awards cite excellence in film, TVwork of Latinos : Made-for-TV movie or miniseries: "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story" (HBO)

MUSIC :
    -BUY IT : For Love or Country Soundtrack (Amazon.com)
    -CD REVIEW : Arturo Sandoval : Music From the HBO Film For Love Or Country (Mark Holston, Jazziz)
    -CD REVIEW : of Hot House by Arturo Sandoval (Neil Rudish, 52nd Street)

GENERAL :
    -La Musica
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Andy Garcia (Imdb)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Joseph Sargeant (Imdb)

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