The very beginning and very end of Buena Vista Social Club: Adios provide contextual bookends that reinforce the finality of the film’s central saga—namely, the glorious union and astounding global success of a collective of aging Cuban musicians made suddenly famous by a 1997 album and ’99 documentary. Moments in, a radio announcement informs the island’s people that their leader of five decades, Fidel Castro, has died. Nearly two hours later, we see the American who restored relations between the long-estranged nations, President Barack Obama, meeting with Castro’s designated successor, his brother Raúl.
The injection of politics into the documentary, directed by Lucy Walker, is neither gratuitous nor underplayed. Rather, it’s crucial to the understanding of just how remarkable it was that the Buena Vista Social Club happened at all, let alone that the band captured the substantial audience it did.