Una Noche: Film Review

Una Noche
Great nonprofessional cast and the filmmakers' surprising access adds up to a vivid picture of Cuban street life.

Lucy Mulloy's film focuses on the faded glamour tourists see when they visit Cuba's capital Havana.

NEW YORK — Affording a rare window into Havana whose authenticity owes much to a trio of gifted nonprofessional actors, Lucy Mulloy's Una Noche rarely steps into the faded glamour tourists see when they visit Cuba's capital. The closest it gets is the kitchens that serve visitors and the side streets whose prostitutes cater to them, where the film finds a frenetic world of people hustling to stay alive. Its story of three teens trying to escape these environs will connect solidly with arthouse patrons, and the film's real-life backstory can only help the marketing effort.

Two of those teens, Javier Núñez Florián (as Elio) and Dariel Arrechaga (as Raul), were jointly awarded a well-deserved best actor nod here at Tribeca. (The pic also earned best cinematography and best new narrative director.) They're joined by Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, playing Elio's twin sister Lila.

Though Mulloy sympathizes strongly with Lila, using her voiceover for scene-setting commentary and her sisterly devotion as a dramatic engine, the tale belongs to the two young men: Raul, the macho son of a prostitute who can't wait to make the 90-mile raft voyage to Miami, and Elio, a more sensitive kid who will risk that trip just to remain by Raul's side.

After painting a picture of the life they want to escape -- one of routine harassment, sex-related humiliations, and poverty -- the film spends much of its time watching the boys scavenge the necessary ingredients for their journey. We get a strong feel for the black-market economy, where nurses swipe prescription drugs, apartments double as junk shops, and serious inventories of contraband might be artfully concealed in a family's dining table. It's a deeply involving process, involving sweaty getaways and morally dicey negotiations, every episode fleshing out our understanding that the dynamic between Raul and Elio is more fragile than they realize.

Mulloy waits until late in the tale to put the raft in the water, at which point the film takes some turns viewers may not feel adequately prepared for. But if certain pieces of the last act are less convincing than what precedes it, the themes underlying the illicit emigration resonate with the viewer's knowledge that, in the real world, two of these Cubans actually did escape: On a layover while flying to Tribeca this week, x and y went missing without having informed the film's producers. Before the fest's end, they made contact to report they're safe somewhere in the US, hoping to start a new life.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, World Narrative Competition
Production Company: Una Noche Films
Cast: Dariel Arrechada, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, Javier Nuñez Florian
Director-Screenwriter: Lucy Mulloy
Producers: Lucy Mulloy, Daniel Michael Mulloy, Maite Artieda, Sandy Perez Aguila, Yunior Santiago
Executive producers: Sam Martin, Mark Nichols
Director of photography: Trevor Forrest, Shlomo Godder
Production designer: Laura Huston
Costume designer: Laura Huston
Editor: Cindy Lee
Sales: XYZ Films, United Talent Agency
No rating, 89 minute