Una Noche in Manhattan

My second and final Tribeca Film Festival screening was Lucy Mulloy‘s Una Noche, which played last night at 9 pm. It’s a little raggedy at times, but always straight, fast, urgent and honed down. It’s not on the level of Fernando Meirelles‘ brilliant City of God but is a contender in that urban realm, for sure. It’s a fine first film, and Mulloy is definitely a director with passion, intelligence and promise. Approval also for her good-looking lead costar Dariel Arrechaga.

Una Noche director-writer Lucy Mulloy, star Dariel Arrechaga during q & a following Sunday night’s screening at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas.

The reason I saw it was largely because of a lady I met on the A train who told me she was going and that she’d heard it worked, etc. And she was right. I hadn’t read up or done any research to speak of (I had a lazy Sunday), so it was a lucky break.

Shot in a darting, scattershot fashion by Trevor Stuart Forrest and Shlomo Godder (who won a TFF Best Cinematography award a couple of night ago), Una Noche is a story of three dirt-poor Havana teens (Arrechada, Javier Nunez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre) planning an escape to Miami on a raft.

Just before the festival began life echoed art when Nunez and Florian “disappeared” — i.e., apparently defected — in Miami on their way to New York from Havana.

Arrechada and Florian won TFF Best Actor prizes the other night besides. Arrechada attended last night’s screening with Mulloy and participated in the post-screening q & a along with Forrest and Godder.

Una Noche feels almost too on-the-nose at times, but at the same time it plays naturally and organically. It gets right down to it and doesn’t crap around. There’s a restless urgency and exuberance in its depiction of hand-to-mouth Havana lifestyles, and a certain sexual current that always weaving in and out.

Lila (Torre) and Elio (Florian) are twins, although not exactly mirror images of each other. Elio has the repressed hots for the good-looking Raul (Arrechaga), who’s determined to leave Havana. Elio wants to join Raul in the perilous 90-mile journey but is ambivalent about leaving his family and especially his sister.

Una Noche‘s first two thirds define the chaotic lives of these three. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Raul gets into trouble with the law after injuring a Western tourist who’s had an altercation with his prostitute mom. Elio recklessly steals goods from the kitchen where he works to help Raul. It’s all about dodging the cops as Raul prepares a rubber-tire raft while wrestling with despair, and with Elio not quite able to make his feelings for Raul known.

The hustle-bustle of Havana life isn’t just “colorful” but cruel and scrappy and desperately hand-to-mouth. Everybody has big worries and is living on the knife’s edge. Nobody’s at peace.

And then the journey finally begins with Lila deciding to join her brother and Raul at the last minute. She and Raul are attracted to each other right away, and the usual sexual-tension fighting results. The irony is that Lila’s presence (or more particularly her body) creates a threat and then a tragedy at sea. I won’t get any more specific than that. Mulloy said during the q & a that she based her script on true story that had a much darker ending than her own.

The economy of Una Noche is born out by its running time — a mere 89 minutes. Everybody looks good at the end of it. This is one of those little films that came together just right. Not perfectly or exquisitely but memorably, and that’s what counts.

  • J, glad you saw this and wrote about it. It’s a great film. Been helping Lucy along for 2 years and it’s nice to know you can still meet great talent early at places like the IFP labs etc…Was never an easy film to make , she took full 35mm equipment in and out of cuba twice along with ferrying exposed unprocessed negative out weekly. Lucy’s the real deal, only good things in the future from her. – Paul

  • Cerulean

    Hope Mulloy doesn’t get her passport taken away by Castro’s goons for those 2 actors defecting. I’m interesting in seeing the film though.

  • Abel

    Thanks for such a great film and so much insight into current day Cuba. I left Havana 32 years ago and let just say things were different. Still was a trip to memory lane to the usual spots in Havana now delapidated beyond recognition. Congrats for doing this film on a unapologetic and unsensored way. Still can’t believe all the matters exposed in this film with the rubber stamp of the cuban gov. Good luck showing it in Havana unsensored. A thousand thanks for validating the cause of Cubans leaving the prison island and to all of those who have perished in their quest for freedom. Congrats to the young actors on a job well done!!

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