Runs Fri., Nov. 1–Thurs., Nov. 7 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 90 minutes.
There are wrenching changes going on in Cuba, as we know. The system of two currencies—one for tourists—is being abandoned. With the Cold War over, former allies like Russia aren’t willing to support the island nation. And though the retired Fidel Castro isn’t dead yet, the old regime is starting to crack. For that reason, while fairly obvious, Lucy Mulloy’s debut feature carries a poignant impact. It follows three teenagers trying to escape the island on a raft to travel the 90 miles to Miami; we know this is a bad plan, and the past-tense narration of Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) adds to our sense of foreboding.
It takes an hour for Lila, her brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián), and his pal Raúl (Dariel Arrechaga) to push off from shore, during which time Una Noche gathers an almost documentary weight. Mulloy, a graduate of Oxford and NYU, brought a small crew to Havana to shoot the movie; and all her performers are local. They move through the streets with ease—grabbing onto buses while coasting their bikes; diving off the pier into turquoise waters; stealing supplies and fleeing the cops. The film was clearly filmed with government permission (undoubtedly for a fee), but the script is quite frank about Cuba’s problems. Raúl’s mother is a prostitute with AIDS. The police beat anyone who dares approach the tourists. The skyline of Havana itself is frozen in a crumbling, 50-year-old stasis. It’s a scenic ruin ringed with pristine beaches and palm trees; no wonder visitors come to stay in the gated beachside resorts.
But eventually we have to climb onto the raft and face the swirling sharks (not unlike All Is Lost). There, Lila is the sole realist about the situation. If they get to Miami, she says, they’ll just end up slaving in a hot kitchen. But there’s a terrible and oppressive sense in Una Noche that if they stay in Cuba, their fate will be exactly the same.