Too much teenage spirit threatens to sink this inside look at today’s Cuba. A good film comes to the surface nonetheless.
Filmed in Havana, Cuba, Lucy Mulloy’s directorial debut passes up the chance to see Cuba through the eyes of the tourists. Yes, the tourists are flocking to Cuba from almost everywhere except the USA and the US will be soon to follow. However, this is not a film about the beaches and crystalline blue waters off Havana.
Instead, the movie dives deep into the dark waters of the barrios of the lost children. For one day the lives of three teenagers are under the microscope. Months of their hopes and dreams come together in a fitful nightmare of desperation that is beyond the understanding of most people outside of the country. It is beyond the understanding of adults everywhere. Chocked full of teenage spirit, this is a film for the hearts and minds of the young.
New director Lucy Malloy does a good job infiltrating the slums of Havana and ferreting out the taboo secrets of the underclasses. These are not secrets to the underclasses of other countries.
They lead the same lives all over the world. Dariel Arrechaga, Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre and Javier Núñez Florián play brother and sister Raul and Lila and Rauls’ best friend Elio. The two boys make a pact of life and death. They make a pact to escape from Cuba on a raft and row, float, sail or motor to the Promised Land. They have no idea of the promises that await them in the seemingly peaceful Caribbean.
The three leads, along with the rest of the cast, had little or no acting experience until recruited by director Mulloy. They were chosen after a painstaking, star making canvassing. The result is a fresh and transparent look at teenage life in modern day Cuba. From what we can tell, it sucks big time.
It seems as if everybody on the island is craving escape. The young crave it sufficiently to risk their lives on schemes that few people, even people with the limited powers of reasoning associated with teens, would attempt. Ninety miles of open ocean looks like so little on a map. This is a film about such an attempt.
In order for adults to appreciate this story it is imperative that they put aside disbelief. This could be hard for many people. We must admit that we know nothing about life in Cuba and accept the fact that people do set out to sea in rafts made of Styrofoam, inner tubes and forklift pallets. Unfortunately, the fact that one person in a thousand might try such a thing does not justify making a film about it. It is not pleasurable to watch the dumbest one percent of a population commit a series of mistakes that demonstrate less and less judgment as the film wears on.
Putting all that aside, the screenplay is a realistic look at life in Cuba for young and old alike. They really do drive those great old Chevy’s down there, patched together in every way possible to cruise a million miles with tins cans for spare parts. They do not restore those Chevy’s because they like old cars. They keep them running because they have to. By all appearances, the country has been changed from a land of rich and poor to a land of equality. Now, everybody is poor. Except the kids, who are poorer than everybody else is.
The poverty, unemployment and lack of educational resources are crushing. If there were any benefits brought to the island by the Castro regime they are not evident in this film. It appears one hundred percent bad and zero percent good. This is a hard to swallow in its entirety. This film requires judgment on the part of the viewer. What is good, true and significant comes through with blazing intensity and fierce determination. The message of the film is driven home with the crazy, yearning intensity of a teenager with a dream.
The challenge is to pick the message out from the random nonsense that teens perpetrate daily, to pick out the desperation that is Cuba as compared to, say, the desperation that is James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
If the intent of the film is to precipitate another Bay of Pigs invasion to save Cuba, director Mulloy has picked a poor cause. If the intent is to show what a human will do in pursuit of a dream, she has done that. Perhaps it is our memories of attempting similar ill-advised adventures that makes this movie so touching, in spite of its ham-fisted irrationality. Once the kids are on the raft, a well-crafted tension slowly draws the audience into their fate. Unfortunately, there are few surprises.
If the plot itself is of limited interest, the sense of Cuban culture is intense. The sound track is filled with the energy of Havana as interpreted by Anais Abreau, Rolando Luna and Waldo Mendosa.
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Directed and Written by: Lucy Mulloy
Starring: Dariel Arrechaga, Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre and Javier Núñez Florián
Release Date: NA—Tribeca Film Festival
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Country: UK, Cuba, USA
Language: Spanish w/English subtitles