VOD Review - Una Noche

Dariel Arrechaga (left), Javier Núñez Florián (center)
and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre in "Una Noche"
In the independent film world, Una Noche made a bit of a splash in 2012. It won three awards at the Tribeca Film Festival, including Best New Narrative Director for Lucy Mulloy, Best Cinematography for Trevor Forrest and Shlomo Godder, and Best Actor for both Dariel Arrechaga and Javier Núñez Florián. The Tribeca Film Festival gave the award to both because the festival organizers felt the two together were essential to one another and to the film overall. My problem is that I disagree.

Dariel Arrechaga plays Raul and Javier Núñez Florián plays Elio. Both are teenage Cubans who are probably between the ages of 16 and 21. Elio is most likely the younger of the two, but he and Raul work side-by-side in the kitchen of a restaurant in the hot summer of Havana.

Raul decides to leave Cuba and travel across the water to Miami, Florida, because he believes that's where his father lives. He currently lives in squalor with his very ill, single mother. He obviously doesn't have enough money to hop a plane, so he gets Elio to help him build a raft, so they can make it themselves to the United States.

Unfortunately, writer-director Lucy Mulloy never shows the two have that conversation. This is emblematic of the fact that Mulloy doesn't do enough to build the relationship between Raul and Elio. Besides being co-workers, I don't understand why they're friends. They hardly talk to each other. Mulloy has the two in their separate worlds, their separate home lives and rarely do the two cross-paths. At one point, Elio gets medicine for Raul and he doesn't even know what the medicine is for.

The truth is that the medicine is for Raul's mother who is HIV positive and who most likely got the disease because she works as a prostitute. I can understand Raul not being willing to talk about this, but once Elio realizes it's HIV medicine, he never brings it up or inquires further. I could accept that, but we never see them ever talk about anything substantive, other than the mechanics of their escape. It's not enough to convince me why Raul would ask Elio of all people to take this trip or why Elio would even agree.

What is revealed is that Elio is gay, and we're meant to assume that he's following Raul due to his infatuation and perhaps secret love for Raul. Yet, Elio's attraction to Raul doesn't become apparent until the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie. By then, it's too late. They're already on the water and I'm scratching my head as to why.

The very first Cuban film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film was Strawberry and Chocolate (1994), which was about a young, gay Cuban falling for a young, straight Cuban in 1979. It seems as if this film is trying to capitalize off that, but coming up a bit short. There was also the infamous Elián González case in 1999 about a Cuban boy who lost a loved one after becoming adrift at sea on his way to the U.S. from Cuba. Ultimately, González winded up back in Cuba. This film also seems to be a take on that.

Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre plays Lila, Elio's twin sister who trains in Taekwondo. She's not a good swimmer and she's constantly teased by other girls about her long hair, not only on her head but all over her body like her arms. Mulloy does a great job of building the relationship between Elio and Lila, as brother and sister. We feel that close bond almost immediately and not only because Lila articulates it in her narration.

Lila even says in her narration that she doesn't know why Elio is leaving her to go to the United States, or why he would leave her and by the end of the movie, that question isn't really answered. It's clear why Raul wants to leave. He's had it with his miserable life. He wants to escape, but there is no explanation for Elio.

There are things that can be inferred, but I never felt like I got inside Elio's head. You can infer that he's maybe trying to escape the homophobia that is constantly showcased. Raul is blatantly homophobic when he sees a penis in a moment right out of The Crying Game (1992).

In the third act, none of that matters, or it all goes away, and the movie becomes a more interesting survival story that's in tune with a lot of other survival stories in the past year like All is Lost, Gravity. and Lone Survivor. Sadly, I feel its ending isn't as meaningful, as those others. It didn't seem to have the punch that it could have had because unfortunately I wasn't caring about the characters enough.

I appreciated Mulloy for putting these three young actors on screen. I think Arrechaga, Florián and Rúa de la Torre are beautiful and naturalistic actors who I'm glad to see. I'm glad to see Cuban culture brought to the movies, but a better, more recent glimpse into Cuban culture is Chico & Rita (2012). A more thrilling immigrant story was Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre (2009).

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language, sexual situations and full-frontal, male nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.


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