“Black Tears” communicates infectious pleasure in its look at five veteran Cuban musicians who still make booties shake worldwide – at an age when peers are likelier to be marking retirement-home time. Richly textured Dutch docu is a good bet for international fest and TV play, with limited theatrical a possibility wherever there’s a fan base for Latin dance sounds.
Despite title (drawn from a traditional song), there’s nothing morose about individual subjects, their music, or pic’s passing glimpses of a Cuba where seductive melody seems a part of everyday life. The five men who comprise La Vieja Trova Santiaguera, aka “The Old Troubadours,” are all grandfathers or great-grandfathers, ranging in age up to 84 (the “baby” is a mere 62).
This acoustic “designer group” was only formed five years ago (a fact not mentioned onscreen), but each participant has logged decades of musical experience. It’s noted that in Cuba’s unique governmental system of institutionalizing the arts, all of the five musicians sport official “A” grades as professionals, with ladder-top salaries to match.
Director Sonia Herman Dolz cuts between performance footage of the quintet on tour in Europe, and more casual scenes of them at home – rehearsing, reminiscing , or observing younger local musicians.
Devoid of explanatory narration or intertitles, structure has a very loose, almost random feel, but Dolz (a TV documentarian whose sole prior feature “Romance de Valentia,” aka “Only the Brave,” scrutinized bullfighting) knows what she’s doing. The warm, romantic tenor of their music is amplified by the Santiaguera players’ charming, feisty, just occasionally cranky personalities.Individual backstories are just glimpsed, background politics (a Havana May Day parade, etc.) barely suggested. Atmosphere is the ticket here, mirroring the music’s sensual, rhythmic, easy-rolling tranquillity.
There are funny moments (like a group visit to “Carlos” Marx’s monument-cum-grave site), and others where Dolz whips up some real editorial bravura – notably a dynamic seg of kids dancing on Cuban streets. Her canny but freeform approach makes film seem a bit longer than it is, thanks to a penultimate stretch that vaguely suggests (while not quite clarifying) criticism of some subjects’ womanizing character flaws. (One has fathered 12 children by seven women, mostly out of wedlock.)
Pic also seems to be ending for about 10 minutes, unwilling or unable to settle on too many possible “final” images. Neophytes might wish for more (well, any) insight re: historical roots of the band’s regional sound.
But it’s all so flavorsome, few viewers will leave without feeling gratefully seduced. Evocative color lensing is first-rate; audio recording (especially for concert segs), exceptional.