New York-based writer-director Lucy Mulloy’s debut film ‘Una Noche’ captures the quiet desperation of Cuban youth. With unprecedented access, she actually shot it on location in Havana. This is the gritty side of Havana kept away from tourists. Inspired by a true story, it shows the risk three Cuban teenagers are willing to take for a better life. Although the distance is a 90-mile voyage to Miami, once the homemade raft hits the choppy waters, the reality of how dangerous the journey actually is hits you. It is a bawdy tale that pulls no punches. The filmmaker is not afraid to show how the island has become a hotbed for sex tourism. The decrepitude is shocking and at times painful to watch.
The story opens with Lila’s (Anailin de la Rua) voice-over narration describing her deep connection with her twin brother, Elio (Javier Nunez Florian). The opening sequence shows young boys playfully jumping into the water. Unbeknownst to her, he is scavenging parts to build a raft so he and his buddy Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) can flee to Miami. They both work in a sweaty restaurant kitchen that prepares meals for the over-privileged tourists vacationing at a swanky hotel. When a cute British teen asks for a light from Raul, a security guard announces to his superiors on the radio, “There’s a citizen talking to a blonde.” It reveals how important tourist dollars have become to the economy.
Mulloy skillfully ratchets up the suspense. Rich foreigners have their pick of streetwalkers to satisfy their sexual pleasure. When Raul catches his AIDS infected mother pulling a trick, the john gets hurt and blames it on him. The manhunt for Raul makes his desire to escape from Cuba more urgent. When Elio trades his bike for a motor, it articulates how business is conducted through the black market. The untested motor also shows how haphazard the getaway raft is pieced together. As Lila senses a growing distance from her brother, she spies on her father being adulterous with another woman. She soon discovers Elio and Raul’s plan to build a raft. Because of her unhappy homelife, she convinces Elio to let her tag along. This makes for an interesting love-triangle as Lila gets jealous of her brother’s obvious affection towards Raul.
Mulloy’s use of a handheld camera and the close-up shots of the lead characters give the story a turbulent feel. There are some funny scenes as well as shocking ones. Just be prepared for a considerable amount of sexual tension throughout the film. Her shot locations are amazing. The cinematography is amazing. The sharp color contrasts are vibrant around the dilapidated buildings in the Cuban barrios. This is Cuba you’ve never seen before. You actually feel immersed into their culture of bartering and survival. The funniest moments come when they finally have enough parts to build the raft. These unprofessional actors were a breath of fresh air. Anailin de la Rua is an exotic beauty that has a promising career as an actress. Dariel Arrechaga is the brooding playboy that gives his character just the right amount of angst. He’s tired of living in oppression so wants to desperately reunite with his father in Miami. While floating in the raft, he tells Lila and Elio that he wants a bright red sports car, a stripper and a knee-length 24-karat gold chain. That is his version of the American dream.
If the story wasn’t incredible enough, life imitates art. When ‘Una Noche’ premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, all three lead actors were supposed to be on hand for a “Q&A” after the screening. As soon as the plane landed in Miami, the two leads Javier Nunez Florian and Anailin de la Rua sought political asylum here in the States. It would be interesting if the director made a follow-up movie with them dealing with the struggles of becoming U.S. citizens. ‘Una Noche’ premiered in New York on August, 23rd to sold-out crowds. Visit their Facebook page for more info: https://www.facebook.com/UnaNocheFilm. Check out the official trailer: http://youtu.be/RKLXDk4NFrA.