Film Review: Una Noche

Apart from some nice photography of a sea-swept Havana, there’s really little to recommend in this sincere but scattered telling of an escape to America.

Writer-director Lucy Mulloy’s Una Noche is narrated by Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de La Torre), a Havana teenager with an unhappy home life, who is bullied by other girls because of her relative dark hirsuteness. Her one supporter is her twin brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián), who tries to encourage her out of her withdrawn, observer nature. She’s utterly devoted to him, but he happens to be besotted by Raúl (Dariel Arrechaga), a hustler who, sick of his Cuban life which consists of nothing but “sweating and fucking,” plans to steal away on a raft to Miami, taking Elio (and, as it turns out, Lila) with him.

First-time helmer Mulloy has a potently absorbing subject here; her heart seems to be in the right place, but her handling is haphazard. She overloads her film with plot and characters, trying too hard to convey the hardscrabble existences which her three protagonists long to leave. The result is a serious case of cinematic ADD, encompassing parental abuse and adultery, AIDS (one parent is afflicted by it), homophobia, etc., with her film proceeding in fits and starts all over the place, rather than flowing in a sensibly expository fashion. Maybe this jumpiness was what she had in mind to translate the chaotic rhythm of Cuban life in the new millennium, but it sorely taxes the viewer’s patience. Lila’s narration is not only unnecessary but distracting: You can’t have elegiac wistfulness and dangerously in-your-face immediacy in the same moment. 

The three leads give it their perspiration-soaked all and are engaging enough, if somewhat too monotonously and sketchily angst-ridden, and not all that sympathetically drawn. But the movie truly goes astray once they set out to sea. The raft sequences are so haplessly unconvincing, with the three alternately bickering and displaying lust for one another (Raúl for Lila, Elio for Raúl, etc.), that even when a shark menacingly appears, you don’t much care about this rather rote dramatic contrivance.