"It breaks your heart," says one of dozens of vividly drawn residents of Havana, Cuba. The man in question is speaking about an abrupt sexual encounter he's just had. According to writer-director Lucy Mulloy and her swift, restless feature "Una Noche," now at the Siskel Film Center, Havana teems with "nervous desperation," as the narrator of the story puts it, propelling its people forward, around in circles, always looking for the next thing.
The next thing for Elio and Raul? A dangerous voyage across 90 miles of water to Miami and the eternally promising land of America. How these friends attempt the journey, and who comes along, provides more than enough narrative impetus for "Una Noche."
But the movie unfolds primarily on land, in the city these friends are trying to escape. The depiction of Havana neither sugarcoats nor grunges-up the harsh reality. The movement intoxicates, but the situations are tough.
The boys assemble a makeshift vessel to attempt the crossing. "I don't want to go to sea in a coffin!" says one, frightened that the wooden planks were stolen from a cemetery. Material goods are always been bartered, or stolen, or coveted in "Una Noche."
Mulloy's camera is fully alive to the geographical possibilities of her location, hustling after the hustlers, pausing for a shot of a caged bird or a nightclub singer. It's quite a stew. If her central trio of performances are more about simplicity than dramatic complexity (now and then you get both, as in Alfonso Cuaron's great "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), Mulloy nonetheless sweeps us along. "Una Noche" deals with everything from suppressed homosexual desire to the perils of living, and scrambling, on the down-low in a police state.
The voice of Lila, Elio's sister, keeps us attuned to what's happening underneath the story itself. Aris Mejias provides the voiceover for the character; on screen, she's played by Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, and she is the soulful linchpin to the story, even if the story's largely about the young men played by Dariel Arrechaga (Raul) and Javier Nunez Florian (Elio).
If there's a facile side to "Una Noche" it's in the portrait of a metropolis only about two things: getting some action or getting away. But that's a pretty fair description of most youthful experiences in any city, anywhere. Perched between documentary and empathic fiction, based on true events, "Una Noche" bodes well for Mulloy and her skill sets as a cinematic observer.
"Una Noche"- 3 stars
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1:30; in Spanish with English subtitles
Runs: Through Thursday at the Siskel Film Center