Stranger than Fiction : Filmmaker Lucy Mulloy on Cuba, Una Noche and the Character-Driven Drama

(Los Angeles Review of Books, October 28, 2013)


WHEN I ATTENDED THE CUBAN PREMIERE of Lucy Mulloy’s much-touted debut film Una Noche last December, a riot nearly broke out in the streets of Havana. One week into the Festival of New Latin American Film, the buzz surrounding Una Noche — a fictional story of three teens attempting to flee Cuba by raft — had built to such a fever pitch that two thousand people had gathered outside the Riviera, a theater seating only one thousand. A half-hour after the scheduled show time, when the line still hadn’t moved and a rumor that all seats had been reserved for dignitaries wound its way through the increasingly agitated crowd, the pushing began in earnest — paunchy young men heaved their bodies against fellow film-goers while older women sucked in their stomachs and hoisted their handbags over their heads in an attempt to slip through some invisible opening. Finally, the police were called in. They extended their arms to create a sort of human tunnel, and reached out their hands to pull people through, offering safe passage one person at a time. In total, including lining-up, pushing-in, viewing, director comments, and pushing-out time, it took almost four hours to see a 90-minute film.

It was worth every minute.

As evidenced by its abundance of awards — Best New Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography at the Tribeca Film Festival; Best Script at the Athens and Brasilia International Film Festivals; and Special Jury Prize at the International Film Festival of India — Una Noche is a film that succeeds on multiple levels. It is an intimate look at the complexities and contradictions of everyday Cuban life as narrated by Lila, whose twin brother Elio has agreed, after much hesitation, to rig a raft to leave Cuba with his friend (and secret love interest) Raúl. Mulloy skillfully covers an astonishing array of tough topics — from tourist privilege, infidelity, and prostitution to gay and transgender issues to disease and desperation, along with, surprisingly enough, hope and humor and sibling love, all set against the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of Havana. With its tightly cropped scenes, its nearly pitch-perfect dialogue delivered by a cast of extremely professional non-professional actors, and its stunt-like camerawork reminiscent of the opening shots of Slumdog Millionaire, Una Noche is a mesmerizing meditation on the dangerous distances people will travel in pursuit of a new life — and a new love.

Keep reading Stranger than Fiction at the Los Angeles Review of Books.