Written by: Robin C. Farrell | May 13th, 2021
Los Hermanos/The Brothers (Marcia Jarmel/Ken Schneider, 2020) 4 out of 4 stars.
Los Hermanos/The Brothers is a highly emotional ride. Especially coming to us after the global experience of lockdown and isolation, the themes of familial bonds and the lengths to which artists and creatives will go to maintain connection and collaborate over great distances are all the more potent. The film tells the personal story of virtuoso Afro-Cuban musicians Aldo and Ilmar López-Gavilán, separated in their childhood and reunited intermittently throughout their adult lives. The brothers bonded through music despite the distance between them and sent cassettes back and forth, largely of Aldo’s original compositions, while each learned their crafts independently; Ilmar studying violin abroad while Aldo remained in Cuba, learning piano. They shared and honed their musical skills with one another as the years passed and became masters of their respective instruments, all the while longing to someday record an album together.
Los Hermanos follows the brothers’ many encounters over the years, covering their time spent apart, as well as their reunions, despite the many layers of difficulties and travel steps required in order for their families to visit one another (let alone for the brothers to perform). We learn their history, their Cuban roots and American connections, and get to experience their musical expertise from start to finish. Though the subject of the sixty-year-old U.S. embargo is addressed, complete with speeches from multiple U.S. Presidents and brief coverage of the 2016 U.S. election, the film manages to avoid an overly political bent. It doesn’t openly condemn anyone, keeping the focus on personal experience, not politics. It shines a light on how Aldo and Ilmar have adjusted to these political restrictions on their lives and the candid truth of their experience is enough to wrench your heart.
The music is sensational. While there are some covers of classical pieces, most of the music performed and played is Aldo’s original work. Over the course of the film, while the travel stipulations are lightened, the brothers get the opportunity to play together in multiple venues. It’s remarkable the way in which their collaborative artistry is captured, while never losing track of the devotion they each have to their individual crafts or their immediate family.
Los Hermanos clocks in at eighty-four minutes, but you would hardly know it, easily getting swept up in their journeys and their music, arriving at an ending that feels conclusive, yet absolutely leaves you wanting to know more. The López-Gavilán brothers bear their trials with a decency that we could all benefit to emulate. The film overall is beautiful and sad and joyous all at the same time and will undoubtedly resonate with viewers, even if just for the beautiful music.