film note: Una noche

Una noche
Written and directed by Lucy Mulloy
90 min, Cuba, 2012

The handsome look of this film shot widescreen in Cuba on 35mm made it easy to feel immersed in its depiction of love, filial attachments, and youthful if naive aspirations. The attractiveness and natural acting of the three amateur leads doesn’t hurt. But the plot is stretched too thin, and melodrama and fatalism eventually upend the film’s energy and the empathy generated by the characters and their desires.

Elio and Lila are inseparable twins, so much so that many think they are lovers. But Elio secretly loves his best friend Raul, who’s another kind of twin. Raul is a charming, lightly muscled womanizer who wants badly to travel those long 90 miles to Miami to reunite with his father; there’s also a brief suggestion that Raul may trick with men for extra money. So: an opportunist. Elio comes up with a plan to assemble the parts for a boat to take them both to the States and Elio makes no allowance for taking his sister Lila along.

The build-up to assembling the parts for the “boat” that will take the two young friends off the island goes on too long and gets sidetracked unnecessarily with subplots and a lot of running around and mind-changing. Once Elio and Raul launch into the ocean, along with Lila who chases them into the surf as a kind of stowaway, a lot of drama gets forced into a very small space. Elio reveals his love for Raul. As you would do in such a situation? Raul turns out to be a big asshole, then he isn’t. Lila kind of looks on and scolds occasionally although she’s a catalyst for all this confrontation. Then: sharks. Accepting all this melodrama in that space in that amount of time is about as hard to swallow as a mouthful of seawater.

The final third of the film drags and just doesn’t play out very well or elegantly nor is it shot resourcefully, with some continuity problems and a cramped frame. Of course, the character we’ve probably come to like the most doesn’t make it. Nobody makes it to Miami, of course.

I just felt like the characters were set up as was the audience and the basic ideas just weren’t able to float a feature-length film. We’re just supposed to take a lot of things for granted.

Still, it’s a hard film to dislike. Havana felt real.

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