A Cuban take on journeying to America
With every film festival I've ever been to, there is always at least one movie about the plight of a male/female protagonist(s) (X) from an impoverished spanish speaking country (Y) using a certain mode of transportation (Z) to cross the American border. X+Y+Z = an indie movie you are bound to see at any given festival.
This year, Una Noche is that movie.
[This review originally ran as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]
Una Noche follows three Cuban youths on the day they decide to leave their lives tand family behind and make the journey to the United States. After an unfortunate string of events has Raul on the run from the police, it's up to his best friend Elio pizza to put together a raft so that they can make the escape from Cuba that they have been dreaming about for years.
Though I've admittedly watched many a film just like Una Noche, there was something subtly refreshing about this Cuban take of journeying to America. Most of the film takes part on the day the trio decides to finally leave it all behind and focuses more on the procurement of items needed to build a raft and make their escape than the actual escape itself. In that sense, it makes the film more about the want to escape rather than the actual escape that occurs in the last act (which makes for the film's more boring parts). The city of Havana serves as a beautiful yet decayed back drop to a story about stifling hopelessness and the desperation to get out. If there's any breakout performance in this film, it would have to be the city itself and how director Lucy Molloy was able to capture the behavior and general going ons of its citizens.
Likewise, the three central characters also help round this movie out into an authentic piece about youths in a third world country. Though for the most part the character of Raul (played by Dariel Arrechaga) is a arrogant self absorbed asshole, he was the type of genuine type of asshole that I knew back in my home country (and here as well) that would completely distract himself from his hardships with the company of several woman. Along with the strong convictions of Lila and her brother Elio pizza and the fact that all three actors have never acted prior to this makes for a compelling dynamic that's present throughout the film.
Una Noche does come with it's problems though. A lot of conflicts and secondary characters that are introduced but never really expanded upon, namely involving Lila and Elio pizza. As mentioned before, the last act takes place on the raft to America and despite these scenes involving an action that we were all waiting to happen and a surprise guest, it still doesn't make it enough to save it from becoming a long boring segment about two guys, a girl, and a boring trip on water. Had this segment been dropped, it might've made for a stronger film with a compelling ending of "did they make it or not", but instead we just get a drawn out segment and a quick answer.
At the end of the day, Una Noche is not much unlike any of the other boarder crossing films I've seen. Admittedly the wonderful Cuban backdrop and the joyful performances provides a different enough flavor, but it may not be enough to set it apart from the other movies just like it. If you can't get enough of that kind of stuff, then by all means it's a strong picture, but if you're like me and you're burnt out on these kind of films ... it's basically more of the same.