A fascinating warts-and-all documentary portrait of an artist operating -- socially, culturally, financially — on the fringe, Mateo details singer-songwriter Matthew "Mateo" Stoneman as he completes work on his seven-years-in-the-making album A History of Cuba. Having cut himself off from his New Hampshire parents, Mateo sleeps on the floor of a cluttered, bedbug-infested East L.A. apartment, plays in local Cuban restaurants and at random parties for money, and frequently travels to Cuba to record.
While in Havana, Mateo also spends time with a "girlfriend" whose child might be his, goes out with another woman with whom he shares some quasi-sexual relationship, and trawls the city's nocturnal streets looking for prostitutes — a decidedly un-romantic existence that's at odds with the love songs he delivers in a striking high voice over acoustic guitar. While colleagues and friends wax rhapsodic about his artistry, there's a lingering sense throughout Mateo that, just as Mateo himself seems detached from those around him, his old-school music is too far removed from the contemporary pop that might find a wider audience in either Cuba or the States. Incisively intimate, it's a small but stirring snapshot of a gifted, hopelessly lonely soul.