|Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre in UNA NOCHE|
Courtesy of Sundance Selects
2013, 90 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
Lucy Mulloy (my interview with her can be found here) wrote and directed Una Noche, an important, honest, and vibrant story of two young men, Elio and Raul (, and a young woman, Lila, who attempt to escape Cuba by raft. The film deservingly won three awards at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival (Best Actor, Best New Narrative Director, and Best Cinematography).
Mulloy is undeniably talented. She has an incredible eye for detail, which makes Una Noche an exotic treat. Shooting the film entirely in Havana, Cuba, Mulloy captures the essence of the city. The opening images are of a group of tourists riding around in a '50s or '60s car and a group of young men jumping into the deep blue ocean. As the film progresses, Mulloy begins to show the less savory parts of Havana: hookers, AIDS patients, police. The opening serves to show a tourist's view of Cuba, whereas the latter parts serve to show a citizen's view.
Una Noche is a film that can easily be compared to Beasts of the Southern Wild in both look and its ability to capture a region close to the director's heart. With Beasts, director Benh Zeitlin captured rural Louisiana and brought it to movie screens through his unflinching realism and lens of love. Mulloy and her cinematographers Trevor Forrest and Shlomo Godder achieve a similar effect with Una Noche. Each image is stunningly shot and captures the texture of Havana - grit, grime, and color. The images transported me to their setting in a way that few films have before. Mulloy, Forrest, and Godder also capture small, rich details that accumulate to form a fascinating portrait of a city.
Throughout the film, Mulloy develops her characters so that we understand why they want to leave Cuba. She shows that it is not a decision that people make on the spot. It is one that is provoked by many factors, and the fact that Mulloy takes the time to show us why people like Elio, Raul, and Lila would want to leave is a testament to her screenwriting abilities. Nothing is black and white in Una Noche. No one is simply good or bad. It's much more complicated and these complexities add to the film's depth.
The performances from the lead three are all superb. Each one displays ample talent and their chemistry is natural, making their characters easy to root for throughout the film.
More than anything, though, Una Noche is a reminder that it is possible to make a rich, complex film with a small budget and a non-profesisonal cast. While some of the film's success can be attributed to the strong lead performances, this is, at heart, Mulloy's film. She has put her distinct mark on it and has given us a beautiful work of art.
Overall, Una Noche is an honest, gorgeously-shot, powerfully-acted film that should thrill audiences. It is a fast-paced, sexy piece of work that is one of the best indies I've seen so far this year. It will certainly resonate with many audience members and will transport them to a place shrouded in mystery - a rare opportunity and a marvelous achievement.
Una Noche opens in New York (IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas) and will be available on iTunes on August 23. It opens on September 6 at the Sundance Cinema in LA.