Director Lucy Mulloy’s first feature film, Una Noche, is a dark, dramatic love letter from Cuba that explores the human side of the balsero phenomenon (Cubans fleeing to Florida via raft). Though Mulloy is not from Cuba herself, rather a native from Great Britain, currently residing in New York, Una Noche demonstrates her intimate knowledge of Cuba’s socioeconomic realities. Due to years spent researching and working closely with first time actors and a devoted international crew, she dialogues with Havana’s social ails without delving into murky political debates about the Revolution and U.S. Cuban relations. Through her characters she explores Cuba’s infamous black market, Cuban sexuality, and the lack of economic opportunity for Havana’s youth. Despite some failings in her first film, it’s not surprising that Mulloy’s storytelling and technical abilities have won her critical praise at prominent film festivals such as Berlin International and Tribeca.
The film follows three principal characters, Elio (Javier Núñez Florián), Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre), and Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) navigating the realities of government and societal oppression set in the vibrant center of the Caribbean's largest city. Narrated by Lila, the story centers primarily around Elio and Raul, co-workers and newfound friends, as they prepare to flee to Miami across the “90 mile river” between Cuba and Florida. Yet, when Lila, Elio’s twin sister, pieces together his plan Elio begins to doubt his decision as he is forced to choose between his family and friendship with Raul. Furthermore, Elio’s decision is quickly complicated when a tourist falsely accuses Raul of assault, instigating a manhunt by the Havana Police.
As Raul arrives home to deliver his mother's AIDS medication, he finds her giving oral sex to a tourist, prostituting herself to help pay for the expensive treatment. Upon his entry into the room, he startles the white, male tourist causing him to trip and stab himself in the eye on a rusty bed post. Though Raul is clearly critical of his mother’s lifestyle, in a previous scene he also exchanges sex in order to pay for her medication. Mulloy emphasizes her character’s complex sexual relations and how these subsequent transactions become entangled in the development of her characters and their decisions throughout the film.
On the streets of Havana she films prostitutes and accentuates their role in society through Raul’s mother. Mulloy also presents predominant Cuban views on homosexuality by showing Elio and a group of boys harassing a passing homosexual; then leaves viewers to note Elio’s discomfort. After Raul has seemingly accepted his fate as an outlaw he mistakenly picks up a transvestite who is quick to let Raul grab her penis causing Raul to spit on her and quickly leave. As Raul debates with Elio about leaving he laments his situation and comes to the realization that in Cuba one can only “fuck or be fucked.” Mulloy’s Cuba is a carnal place, and it may leave some viewers wondering why there is such stock placed in the sexual interactions of her characters with those around them. The scenes invoking sexuality are brief and graphic and complicate and complement the social commentary that serves as a crux of the film as a whole.
As a foreigner Mulloy is able to present viewers a surprisingly nostalgic portrayal of Havana’s lively culture where each scene is populated with Havana’s citizenry as they witness the drama unfolding around them. Mulloy intersperses her narrative with scenes of street side musical performances, cafes and bars, and Havana’s sea-side skyline. Una Noche’s Cuba is a busy place filled with vibrant individuals in a city that continues to crumble around them. The music, recorded during filmmaking, performed exclusively by Cuban artists, instills life within the slowly decaying city and the brightly colored buildings that adorn Havana’s streets. She shares with viewers a side of Cuba that many North Americans have never seen and captures the island’s beauty with every camera angle. Moreover, her story illuminates much about the relationship between Cuba and its balseros, but doesn’t complicate itself with U.S.-Cuban politics. Instead, Mulloy explores humanity and the lengths to which her characters go to escape the stagnant city life of Havana. She looks to viewers to be critical of Cubas socioeconomic and political realities and recognize how the nation has been stalled by the Revolution and subsequent U.S. embargo.
Mulloy’s critique of Cuban stagnation and desperation is best viewed through Raul and Elio’s preparations for their journey to Florida. Through their preparations Una Noche examines the Cuban economy and its reliance on illicit transactions and bartering which take place in back alleys and private residences. They visit a daycare center that doubles as a pharmacy, private residencies serving as junk yards and treasure troves, and the back rooms of the national health service where healthcare workers profit from illegal sales of government controlled medications. Elio and Raul’s willingness to give up their few worldly belongings, and steal the others they need, emphasize their desperation and the overall plight of Cuban youth. They are forced spend what little money they have, trade what few items they own, and resort to theft in preparation for their trip.
Their economic desperation, however, is not the only reason the protagonists choose to flee their native land. In a conversation between Raul and his mother we learn of Raul’s desire to see his absent father in Miami, (despite not having spoken since he fled Cuba). Meanwhile, Elio, secretly in love with Raul, suffers from the constant fear of persecution for his sexuality. Lila detects her brother’s love for Raul and discovers their plan, but rather than preventing them from leaving she decides to join her brother and Raul on their journey. Her underlying fear of loneliness and love for her twin brother push her to climb on the raft despite her fear of the ocean and inability to swim.
Mulloy’s locally recruited actors deliver performances that should cement their future careers in future Cuban and international productions. Without their commitment to the story and devoted performances viewers might seem pressed to follow them on such a perilous journey in the final act. Yet Mulloy’s storytelling and camerawork draws viewers into her Havana based drama leaving the audience no choice but to climb on for the ride across the 90 mile river. Lucy Mulloy’s intimate look at Cuba, Cuban citizens, and the balsero story should ensure her a fruitful career in filmmaking in the years to come.
Una Noche is being distributed by IFC Films and is currently making its way into theaters via film festivals across the country. It is also available for rental online through ITunes and Amazon for a limited time. Notably, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre and Javier Nunez Florian decided to seek asylum in the U.S. in April after being invited to the Tribeca Film Festival For more information on Mulloy’s background and making the film, trailers, and IMDB page please see the links below.
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Controversy with Actors:
Interviews with Mulloy: