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The art of the film review: competition winner

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During the recently concluded ttff/12, a workshop was held on the art of film criticism. The workshop, which took place at the University of the West Indies, was facilitated by noted Indian film critic Manoj Barpujari.

At the end of the workshop, participants were invited to write a review of a film playing in the Festival, for a chance to win a $5,000 cash prize courtesy the Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), and the right to have their review published in the Express newspaper. The winner of the competition, as adjudged by Mr Barpujari, is Barbara Jenkins, for “Three’s a crowd”, her review of the film Una Noche, written and directed by Lucy Mulloy.

About Barbara Jenkins
Barbara Jenkins has spent a lifetime teaching, raising children and reading voraciously. Having just completed the MFA programme at UWI, St Augustine, she is now an ardent convert to fiction writing. Some of her stories have been successful in international writing competitions.

As a child her love of stories was not confined to reading. “I was weaned at Olympic Cinema, Belmont. I can still close my eyes and be back there in that hot, airless box, lost in the wonderful transformation of my world that 12.30 pm on Saturday afforded.” She does not watch films except at the cinema. “I need to be in a place where it’s just me and the film. Nothing else to distract from the magic. When the film is over, I need to go away and think about it. I can’t immerse in another film right way. I am quickly saturated.

“The trinidad+tobago film festival is the next best thing to J’Ouvert for me. I love it.”

Three’s a crowd
by Barbara Jenkins

In Una Noche, Lucy Mulloy’s award-winning coming-of-age film, teenage twins, Elio and Lila and Elio’s friend, Raul, set out one fateful moonlit night from Havana on a makeshift raft to reach Miami. One perishes at sea; two survive, rescued off Cuba’s coast.

What has propelled the trio to hastily construct a flotation device from the frame of a packing case, truck tyre inner tubes, styrofoam and rope and aim to cross the “90-mile-wide-river” is narrated in engaging voice-over by Lila (Analin de la Torres). This technique gives the film a documentary feel, as does the setting, filmed on location in Cuba – its streets, buildings, sea and underwater. No big name stars are vehicles for this film; the actors were selected in street casting on location.

Dressed in Cuba’s regulation high school uniform of white blouse and mustard-yellow skirt, Lila is the camera – cycling side-saddle with Elio (Javier Florian), peering through jalousie slats, spying on Raul (Dariel Arrechaga ) and his raft building. That the adults are grappling with the daily deprivations and stresses of living under both an embargo and government control, scarcely impinges on the inseparable twins’ enjoyment of each other and of their youth.

When Raul and Elio become best friends, the bond of that powerful geminal attachment begins to dissolve. Raul’s mother is very ill with AIDS; his nebulous father is in Miami. He drinks heavily, is angry, sexually confused, and relies on Elio’s friendship. After he assaults a tourist and is hunted by police, Raul decides to escape to Miami. Elio, caught stealing from the hotel kitchen, is also on the run. Lila insists on joining them.

“Were you guys trying to get to Miami?” the speedboat-driving, English-speaking tourist asks Lila and Raul after he has towed them and their chunk of styrofoam to land. Uncomprehending, they stumble along the palm-fringed beach after one night at sea as the credits roll.

It would be easy to locate the motivation for their rash adventure in the material deprivations in Castro’s Cuba and the lure of the cornucopia that awaits in America, since this constitutes a familiar real-life trope in the anti-Castro narrative in Cuba and Florida alike. But Mulloy, named by film critic Oliver Lyttleton as one of the “ten bright sparks for the future”, does not move in that groove. “You can get anything you want in Cuba,” says one of the characters. Echoing the cliché man-in-a-raincoat unbuttoning to reveal a stiched-in rack of counterfeit Bulovas, a bed is opened, like a cupboard lying on its back, to display a pharmacy’s worth of drugs from aspirin to anti-retrovirals.

While the tensions among the threesome surface earlier, it is in the confining space of the raft at sea that the real drama of the film is played out. Lila’s antagonism towards Raul as the unwelcome third in her relationship with her brother blows up when she mocks Raul’s fantasy of meeting his father and enjoying the easy life in Miami. But the director invites the audience to view this as an overt expression of the real sexual tension in the love triangle that has them trapped in that space and that enterprise. Lila loves Elio loves Raul loves Lila loves Raul loves Elio loves Lila, too much for that cramped space and, as they’re too inexperienced to have figured it out, the trio express that love with ambivalence.

As well as the yin-yang of sexual love and platonic friendship, the film subtly explores further dualities. The harmonious landscape of sea and sky contrasts with the tension on the raft and when harmony embraces the raft occupants, the sea brings menace. The luxury and privilege enjoyed by tourists is set alongside the deprivations and repression of the locals. Everyone is a police spy yet everyone is engaged in some clandestine illicit activity. Rendered in tones of dun and beige, ochre and pastels, the rundown district of Havana where the protagonists live contrasts with the energy of the people playing in the street, cycling, walking, soliciting for customers, playing music, dancing.

Mulloy collaborated with professional musicians to create from her lyrics and tune snatches a background score, hip-hop street music and a jazzy cabaret ballad. The astute combination of landscape, dialogue, music and acting give this film a joyous energy, a celebration of youthful impetuous passions, whatever the sobering consequences.

In a bizarre twist of life imitating art imitating life, actors Javier Florian and Analin de la Torres, the movie siblings, disappeared after deplaning in Miami en route to the Tribeca Film Festival in April, leaving Dariel Arrechaga to share the limelight with Lucy Mulloy when Una Noche scooped the Best New Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography awards.

Date: Sun 07 Oct, 2012
Category: ttff news and features

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