The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Saved by the x-factor

with 4 comments


Is there an x-factor in how we rate movies, where “x” stands for “exotic?”

If I go to myself, I think there is. I’m biased. If I know that a movie comes from a development country, where the film industry is young and small and the available resources are limited, I will measure it against a different standard than if it had been a Hollywood production.

Normally I cringe at badly written lines, worn-out tropes and amateur acting. But if it originates from an unusual place, it somehow compensates for other shortcomings.

As far as I can recall, Una Noche is the first Cuban movie I’ve seen. This is a film about three young Cubans who try to make an escape over the ocean. Most of the time is spent in Havana, where we see the struggles they face in life and what circumstances that make them end up on a raft. It suffers a little from all those problems I mentioned. How many times do we for instance have to see those canary birds in cages in movies about underprivileged people? We understand that they feel trapped, thank you very much, there’s no need to spell it out. And what cliché comes to mind if someone is going over the ocean on a raft? Yes. That one. And of course it happens.

The x-factor
But this is when the x-factor comes at rescue. I’ve never been in Havana and I loved to see what it’s like, for real. Not in the tourist brochures, but in the backyards, on the rooftops, in a dirty kitchen, in the home of an old prostitute, in a taekwondo dojo. The young actors are so-and-so objectively, but there is something about them that feels genuine, despite the delivery of some lines. Perhaps it’s their desire to get away from it all that shines through. Two of the leading actors decided to make their own escape from Cuba, seeking political asylum in US when they attended the premier of the film in New York. My knowledge of those circumstances adds another layer to the experience of the movie.

I don’t remember if the film was based on a true story or not and frankly it’s not important. The setting is real, the situation is real. People do those desperate attempts to escape to what they hope will be a better life. Their stories are worth telling, even in a slightly flawed manner. That’s the only way we’ll hear them, because it isn’t likely that Hollywood will go out of its way to do it. And if it would, I’m afraid that some of the local colour might get lost with the added layer of polish.

Una Noche (Lucy Mulloy 2012) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

June 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Posted in Una Noche

4 Responses

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  1. Never heard of this one, but it sounds interesting. I guess you are right that you will judge some movies differently because they have something special whether that’s the country they were made in or something else…


    June 16, 2014 at 10:46 am

    • Yes, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Sometimes the fact that something feels “new” – such as the setting – can compensate for other shortcomings. I can think of several such examples over the last few years. A Separation comes to mind. Wihtout the x-factor I don’t think it would have been half as interesting.


      June 16, 2014 at 11:11 pm

  2. The cover photo looks like it’s stolen from the brilliant Cidade de Deus.

    I haven’t seen any Cuban movies myself. I should get around to watching Buena Vista Social Club one of these days, even if it’s just for the music.


    June 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    • To be correct, I may add, the director got her education in UK, I think. But her family is from Cuba and in every aspect it’s a Cuban film.
      I would like to make a checklist starting to “collect” movies from different countries. The vast majority of everything I watch is from US and UK. Some Swedish. And occationally movies from other parts of Europe. Some Japanese anime. But the list would be sadly short. It’s about time I’d start to expand it a bit I think.


      June 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

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