In 'Una Noche,' Teenagers Flee Cuba
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: August 22, 2013
A bright red sports car, a stripper and knee-length 24-karat gold
chains: those accouterments define the sweet life in Miami in the
feverish fantasies of Raúl (Dariel Arrechaga), a hotheaded, hormonally
overcharged Havana teenager in "Una Noche." With his best friend, Elio
(Javier Núñez Florián), and Elio's twin sister, Lila (Anailín de la Rúa
de la Torre), Raúl hopes to follow countless others and navigate the
straits of Florida to America on a homemade raft.
The journey, which they undertake in the movie's final third, is as
perilous as you might expect. The craft, crudely assembled from wood
found in a cemetery, is equipped with inner tubes, an untested motor and
a GPS. Their provisions consist of food stolen from the restaurant at
which Raúl and Elio used to work, supplemented by glucose.
The feature directorial debut of Lucy Mulloy, a New York documentarian,
"Una Noche" surges with vitality so palpable that, for its duration, you
feel as if you were living in the skins of characters often photographed
in such extreme close-up that they seem to be breathing in your face.
You feel the sun on their bodies and get goose bumps when they shiver
from the cold.
Contemporary Havana, as depicted in the film, is an impoverished,
crumbling fleshpot, whose residents eke out a living the best they can,
often by prostituting themselves to tourists. It's also a barter
culture; Elio exchanges his bike for the motor. You can have anything
you want if you know whom to go to, observes a character. The
authorities are constantly on the alert for trouble. We overhear a
security guard warning a supervisor, "There's a citizen talking to a
The movie's first two-thirds are a portrait of the city as experienced
by these teenagers, as they frantically (and surreptitiously) prepare to
leave. A narrator (Aris Mejias), assuming Lila's point of view, muses
out loud about a city where, in the words of Raúl, the only things to do
are sweat and have sex.
Because everything is filtered through a late-teenage consciousness,
"Una Noche" is highly sexualized. Raúl, to celebrate his departure,
picks up a streetwalker, who, to his chagrin, turns out to be
transsexual. Once the three main characters set forth, the
stereotypically macho Raúl repeatedly hits on Lila, who is not
interested. Complicating matters, the gentle, introspective Elio is
secretly in love with the homophobic Raúl.
Raúl has no choice but to flee Havana after attacking and injuring a
Western tourist he catches having sex with his mother (María Adelaida
Méndez Bonet), a prostitute. Harassing tourists is a serious matter in
Havana, and for much of the movie, the police are in relentless pursuit.
Raúl's father, he has been told, is somewhere in Miami, but no one has
heard from him. Elio and Lila are leaving behind a mother seriously
weakened by H.I.V. and her faithless, ne'er-do-well husband. Before
leaving, Elio manages to scrape up a supply of H.I.V. medication to
Once they finally push off into the water, they discover that the motor
doesn't work, and they must paddle the entire 100-mile distance. They
brave a thunderstorm, and a shark appears. That's just the beginning of
their troubles. But "Una Noche" doesn't turn into a clichéd survival
drama. For all its flaws, the movie, filmed with nonprofessional actors,
is steadily gripping.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Lucy Mulloy; director of photography, Trevor
Stuart Forrest and Shlomo Godder; edited by Cindy Lee; production design
by Laura Huston; produced by Ms. Mulloy, Daniel Mulloy, Maite Artieda,
Sandy Pérez Águila and Yunior Santiago; released by Sundance Selects. In
Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. This
film is not rated.
WITH: Dariel Arrechaga (Raúl), Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre (Lila),
Javier Núñez Florián (Elio), María Adelaida Méndez Bonet (Adelaida),
Greisy del Valle (Greisy), Katia Caso González (Hilda), Penelope
Battrick (Judith), Liuda Motes Lado (La Gata), Lázaro Mario Padrón Ávila
(Cristal) and Aris Mejias (Narrator).
Source: "In 'Una Noche,' Teenagers Flee Cuba - NYTimes.com" -