The story of three Havana teenagers attempting to escape Cuba for a better life in America is conveyed with urgent, rough-hewn simplicity in director Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche. Making very effective use of Cuban non-pro actors, Mulloy takes us around the mean streets of Havana, where the shops are empty, but private homes stock everything from jewelry to motors to HIV meds. What the British-born, first-time feature director might lack in narrative polish, she makes up for with a genuine sense of empathy for her yearning, troubled characters and an artist's eye for the beauty of decay. Mulloy even went to great trouble to shoot in 35mm instead of digital, a testament to her production moxie and desire for visual authenticity, attributes that will serve her well as she continues to improve. May her second film come soon.
Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) are teenage twins, born three minutes apart, hustling and surviving in a stifling Havana defined by its broken families and crumbling, outdated infrastructure. Lila is emotionally dependent upon her brother, but she senses him pulling away as he spends more time with his brash, hot-tempered buddy Raul (Dariel Arrechaga). Although Elio's interest in Raul might be sexual in nature, their connection really stems from a mutual desire to escape Havana on a makeshift raft for Miami, where Raul's father supposedly awaits.
Preparing for their trip allows the clever Mulloy, who also wrote Una Noche, to send the boys around Havana gathering items, which offers an entrée into various aspects of everyday Cuban life. The hothouse colors and beautifully coarse compositions of DPs Trevor Stuart Forrest and Shlomo Godder provide raw visual energy as Elio steals food from a hotel kitchen and acquires the bag of glucose that'll keep them vigilant during their 90-mile float to Miami. Raul, who is emblematic of how Cubans use desperate and often joyless sex to barter services, make a living, and relieve boredom, employs his good looks to snag the inner tubes needed for their raft and a camera to be traded for his prostitute mother's HIV medicine.
Lucy Mulloy: 'A director to watch'
Lucy Mulloy's treatment of the central threesome is gentle and sympathetic, even if Elio's homosexuality feels dramatically weightless and Lila's poetic narration is occasionally superfluous. The director, who began in documentaries, neither condones nor condemns anyone's behavior, including the key moment when Raul injures one of his mother's tricks, expediting his need to escape the island.
Lila, Elio and Raul's attempt at freedom takes them out of Cuba and into the Florida Straits for the movie's final section (which includes two heartbreaking shots boldly added to the end credits). Even without the distinctive Cuban locales, we're still fully engaged during the treacherous, shark-infested journey, further classifying Mulloy as a director to watch.
Life (somewhat) imitates art
And in a real-life coda that makes her film valuable beyond mere artistry, in 2012 de la Torre and Florián defected on their way to Una Noche's premiere at New York's Tribeca Film Festival. According to reports, they are now a couple, living together in Las Vegas. As of this writing, de la Torre is pregnant with twins. (Note from the Editor: See also “Tribeca 2012: Politics Nation.”)
Una Noche (2012). Director and Scr.: Lucy Mulloy. Cast: Dariel Arrechaga, Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, Javier Núñez Florián, María Adelaida Méndez Bonet, Greisy del Valle, Katia Caso, Anais Abreu, Sinencio Arrechaga Valdes, Naomi Battrick, Felix Beaton, Jonny Burt, Amarilis Caridad Piñeda Martínez.
Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, Javier Núñez Florián, Dariel Arrechaga Una Noche photo: IFC Films / Sundance Selects.