Docu “La Tropical” offers a rarely seen view of the barrio in Havana and demonstrates the importance of dance and music in dealing with pervasive racism and crippling poverty. David Turnley’s choice of grainy B&W film is off-putting at first, but ultimately proves quite suitable. With appeal limited to fans of Cuban culture, pic should find a home in a few arthouses and perhaps on cable.
In pic’s opening, a man says, “Dance is the most non-religious ritual in Cuba.” He couldn’t be more correct: In the ghettos of Havana, everyone dances, from a 77-year-old grandmother to schoolchildren. Setting is the Salon Rosado at La Tropical, the hottest dance club in Cuba, catering to poor, working-class people of color. Interwoven with the dancing are compelling stories. One thread follows the family of a lighter-skinned dancer who forbid their daughter from marrying the dark-skinned man she loves; heartbreakingly, she winds up betrothed to a European man, her ticket off the island. Photographer-turned-director Turnley’s photos on closing credits are spectacular.