Film making is changing. One sign of this is when an unknown brother and sister team who have only made shorts before come out of nowhere with a feature-length film that knocks your socks off and sweeps the awards at the film festivals of Tribeca, Berlin, Brasilia, Deauville, Athens Ft. Lauderdale, Stockholm, India, and Oaxaca.
The other is that you can actually see it even if you don’t live in a city with an art house cinema. You go over to Amazon.com and rent it for $6.99 to watch on your computer or Kindle.
The latter is remarkable because “Una Noche” (“One Night”) has an underlying theme that is not popular in Hollywood, where luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson make the pilgrimage to Havana to schmooze with Fidel and dine out on stories of what a hell of a guy he is.
The basic premise is, Cuba is a rotten place to live.
Since 1959 when Cuba traded the corrupt but easygoing Batista for Fidel and his crew of murderous psychopaths, Havana, once one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere, has become a decaying corpse rotting in the tropical sun.
Everybody hustles to make a living. Since the subsidy from Fidel’s patron disappeared with the Soviet Union, Cuba has been turned into a brothel where rich tourists come to take advantage of poor and desperate Cubans. “Una Noche” shows this brilliantly with few words and a lot of inspired camera work.
“Una Noche” was written and directed by Lucy Molloy, an Englishwoman and Oxford grad who studied film at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. It was produced by her brother Daniel among others.
Molloy spent years in Cuba gathering 35 mm film footage and worked entirely with non-professional actors. Someday the story of how this movie was made is going to be a fascinating documentary in its own right, because it could not possibly have been authorized by the Cuban government.
In 2010 during production, Molloy was awarded a Spike Lee Production Grant Award. I haven’t felt good about Lee since he essentially publicly solicited the murder of George Zimmerman’s parents (and got the address wrong), but this was a good thing.
“Una Noche” is the story of three teens: Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and her twin brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) who share a bond closer than anyone can imagine. Until Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) comes into Elio’s life.
Lila and Elio are the children of a soldier and his wife. Raul’s mother is an aging HIV-infected prostitute.
Raul wants to escape to Miami where his almost-forgotten father lives. Elio would like to go with him, but is torn by the need to protect his tough but vulnerable sister on the cusp of womanhood. Lila is afraid of the sea.
Raul is collecting the materials for a raft to make the 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits. He barters for inner tubes. He steals scraps of lumber and breaks into a car to steal a GPS.
He buys black market anti-HIV drugs for his mother, and medical glucose solution to provision the raft from a nurse out of the back door of a clinic.
“Don’t let anyone see that list,” the nurse cautions, “or they’ll know you’re leaving the country.”
Then Raul is accused of assaulting a tourist, a crime only a little less serious than subversion in Cuba, and his desire to leave becomes an urgent necessity.
“Everyone in Havana knows you can’t run from the police,” Lila says. “You can choose to hide or make the most of the time you have left.”
Everything leads up to “One Night” at sea on a makeshift raft. Where the nature of Elio’s love for Raul comes out, and Lila’s womanhood ripens in the midst of confusion and catastrophe.
There have been many films that have attempted to show what life under tyranny is like. Notable ones from Latin America include “El Secreto en sus Ojos” (“The Secret in their Eyes” Argentina, 2009) and Cuban-American Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (2005). Most of them are about affluent, intellectual people who can discourse on the meaning of tyranny. Few have captured the “nervous desperation” of life under tyranny like “Una Noche.”
“Una Noche” is about the lives of poor, superstitious, entirely unpolitical people.
When the boys determine they are going to risk the trip across the Florida Straits that have claimed an unknown number of lives, they don’t discourse about freedom, they consult a witch to tell their fortune and make them a good luck charm.
When “Una Noche” premiered in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Javier Nuñez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared, reportedly defecting.
UPDATE: I found out recently the film was actually shown in Cuba to wildly enthusiastic response from audiences – then it was banned.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.