Una Noche: Lost Dreams of Havana’s Youth

17 Sep

Una Noche is a phenomenally well made film that explores what lies at the heart of every person – the innate desire for something more.  Directed by a friend I met while attending NYU, the film makes use of brilliant cinematography, fluid editing, and the sheer power of storytelling to bring us the tale of Elio and his twin sister Lila.  Elio (Javier Nunez Florian) works in a hotel kitchen, cooking for tourists who pass through Havana on vacation.  His twin sister Lila (Anailin de la Rua De la Torre) is his constant companion.  The two explore Havana together, running amok with other teenagers.  Early on, we learn that Lila cannot swim, which foreshadows a major event in the plot.

Elio, dissatisfied with his dead-end life in Havana, is planning to make an escape from the island to Miami with his friend and co-worker, Raul (Dariel Arrechaga).  Raul hopes to soon be reunited with his father in Miami.  Together, Elio, Lila, and Raul comprise a set of Havana youth that are privy to the disappointments and hopelessness that often accompany reality.  This film is not a fairy tale.  Una Noche, without giving too much away, is a realistic story of just how bad life can get.  This film documents desperation, and the measures that people will take to escape it.

Una Noche resonated with me on a personal level due to the fact that part of my heritage is based in Cuba.  My maternal grandfather grew up in Havana, and his family managed to make their way to New York City prior to the Cuban Revolution.  The Cuban economy would deteriorate over the next few decades, largely in part to their trade dependence with the Soviet Union.  What struck me so deeply while watching the film was how lucky I have been in my life to have not been privy to some of the things that my grandparents and their parents endured.  I’ve mostly lead a privileged life, attended private university, and worked cushy office jobs.  People like Elio, Raul, and Lila are representative of the vast majority of the world’s population.  There is a world out there that is much bigger than consumerism and folly – people are ill, starving, and fighting to live.  Una Noche is a stark reminder of just how good many people have it, but always forget out of convenience.

What Una Noche documents very well is the crumbling and tense state of Havana.  It is a place where white foreigners come to bask in the sun on the beach, but the natives, who vary in complexion from light to caramel to dark brown, are relegated to the parts of Havana that no tourist would dare venture to.   What touched me the most was how happy the children were, despite living in abject poverty in the slums of Havana.  For me, this film was as much about social issues as it is about the power of hope, and what lengths people will go to in order to change the course of their lives.

The fates that befall Elio, Lila and Raul result from an encounter Raul has with a tourist.  Once again, the power of the foreign other is what pushes the three to the brink of a life or death decision.  The opening of the film introduces the voice of an English tourist proclaiming, “this is their story, not ours”.   A poignant touch to an otherwise startling, breathless film.  This is indeed the story of those that will very rarely be told.   The young actors who played the three main characters are very naturally gifted, and they embody their characters completely.  Lucy Mulloy, in her directorial debut, proves that she is a consummate storyteller and a voice for the voiceless.

Una Noche is currently playing in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theater at 11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, and in New York City at the IFC Center, located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street.

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2 Responses to “Una Noche: Lost Dreams of Havana’s Youth”

  1. Mom September 23, 2013 at 9:49 PM #

    This sounds like a wonderful film I hope she is able to present it some film festivals for
    wider presentation. I look forward to watching Una Noche, una dia soon

    • fixedair September 23, 2013 at 11:05 PM #

      Mom, the movie played at every major film festival and Spike Lee produced it. She won best new director at Tribeca last year.

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