Brilliant first feature by Lucy Mulloy in which teenage “Lila” (Anailin de la Rue de la Torre) guides us around post-Fidel Havana as it rapidly deteriorates into a seedy Tourist Mecca desperate for dollars.
When her brother “Elio” & his friend “Raul” begin to make plans to escape to Miami, Lila must decide if she has the courage to join them or if her own fears will keep her frozen in place. (JLH: 4.5/5) Highly recommended by both of us. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.
Q: Does this film pass the Bechdel Test? No, but it’s still a terrific film!
You know a film really has you in its grip when your body is so tense that you can hardly watch what’s on the screen. Three teens were in perilous circumstances, and for the whole last act, my fear for their welfare was so great that I often found it difficult to breathe.
So I went back to see Una Noche a second time, to better understand how novice filmmaker Lucy Mulloy had swept me up so totally into the world of Una Noche.
Una Noche (One Night) begins with voiceover narration. First we see a lively blonde passenger in a speeding convertible, her hair all aflutter. Then a disembodied voice says: “It’s not her story; it’s mine.” and instantly we are turned away from the predictable and pushed in a whole new direction.
The voice belongs to “Lila” (Anailin de la Rue de la Torre), a tomboy living in post-Fidel Havana, and she’s right: Lina is the kind of character we almost never meet in a lead role these days. Mulloy is taunting us: do we have the courage to look beyond stereotypes and meet some of the people who really live in today’s world? If no, then leave now; but if yes, then you will be rewarded with one of the best films of 2013.
Lila is a twin, and she and her brother “Elio” (Dariel Arrechaga) have always been inseparable. But something has changed in recent months, and Lila doesn’t know quite what. So she follows Elio around like a shadow, and bit-by-bit, we begin to see the world through her eyes.
Lila tells us that after a blow-up with their father, Elio left school and took a job in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant. That is where he met “Raul” (Dariel Arrechaga), a mysterious new friend Elio will talk about but never allow her to meet. Then, searching for Elio at the restaurant, Lila actually meets Raul, but she doesn’t know his name and he doesn’t know hers. Lila thinks Raul is just another kitchen guy; Raul thinks Lila is Elio’s girlfriend. This fundamental set of misunderstandings propels the plot.
Now that Lucy Mulloy has her leads in place, her camera flies all around Havana, keeping time with these three frenetic kids as they meet their destiny. They were raised in a Socialist state dominated by the revolutionary ideals of Fidel Castro, but that state has now unraveled. Tourists are returning to Cuba, bringing their dollars and their lust. Mulloy makes the rot palpable, revealing government collusion and police corruption with tiny flashes of words and images.
To some extent, Lila is still a believer, but Raul wants none of it. He is a handsome and charismatic young man with a huge chip on his shoulder. Raul has it in his head that his father now lives in Miami and he is determined to get there. Seeing Elio waiver in the middle, Lila confronts Raul. “What is your father’s name?” she demands. “Jose,” replies Raul sheepishly. “Jose! So you’re going to go to the beach in Miami and ask for Jose?” she mocks. Lila’s verbal assault is so strong that she almost knocks Raul off balance.
Throughout the film Mulloy continually juxtaposes male and female behaviors. Who knows if these differences are innate, but in this specific place and time (post-Fidel Cuba), daily life is definitely sex-specific. The boys are dynamos bursting with intense energy; the girls are physically restrained but verbally aggressive. As they grow older, will the boys run away, leaving the girls behind? Can mere words persuade someone who is determined to break free?
Three young people, each filled with their own hopes and fears, race around Havana from sunrise to sundown, and as we follow them we learn the ins and outs of their world. Cuba was once a place of global significance but it is now in a state of transition. When the new day begins, will Lila stay home or set sail for Miami…?
This is Lucy Mulloy’s first feature film. I can’t wait to see what she does next!
Top Photo: Lila remembers happy times, riding with Elio on his bicycle.
Bottom Photo: Raul assesses his options.
Photo Credits: Duncan Bone