La Ultima Rumba De Papa Montero

1992, Movie, NR, 52 mins

Review

LA ULTIMA RUMBA DE PAPA MONTERO | PAPA MONTERO'S LAST RUMBA
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If only the name "Desi Arnaz" springs to mind when you hear the word "rumba," veteran Cuban director Octavio Cortazar's hybrid documentary/fiction film may prove somewhat enlightening. Simply shot on video, this 50-minute feature is many things at once: a documentary look at the seriously sexy Cuban dance; a naturalistically staged musical about the death of Papa Montero, the legendary Cuban rumbero of the 1930s; and a mystery story in which a group of fictional filmmakers investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding Montero's death while trying to make a musical documentary about his life. Havana legend has it that the famed rumba singer was the victim of a love triangle: Montero (played in the film's musical portion by Jorge Cao) and a tough customer named Cheo (Carlos Cruz) both loved Gabriela (Sonia Caridad), a cold-hearted "mulatta." When Gabriela chose Montero for her lover, the jealous Cheo stabbed him to death during Carnaval. But that doesn't seem to be the whole story, and the scriptwriter of the film-within-a-film finds himself assuming the role of detective as he tries to piece together details about the slain musician. The director, meanwhile, scouts locations and rehearses dance numbers illustrating the events leading up to Montero's death. These rough but exuberantly choreographed sequences are the best parts of this short, slight film; they show the rumba to be a very sexy and surprisingly raw mix of traditional African and Latin dances, a far cry from the tame ballroom version with which most Americans are familiar. But the rest of the film is underdeveloped and disappointingly uninformative. Cortazar, who has been making films in Cuba since the 1960s, reveals very little about Montero, the cult of the rumbero or, aside from a few interesting passages during which the main players are described as the sons and daughters of Santerian divinities, the culture from which all this energy springs. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Ken Fox

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La Ultima Rumba De Papa Montero
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