Shot entirely in Cuba, "Una Noche" takes place over one day in Havana (and one terrifying night on the ocean) as Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) and Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) prepare to emigrate to Miami on a makeshift raft. The boys have been planning the dangerous 90-mile voyage for a while, but when Raul is suspected of assaulting a tourist, their timetable moves up, forcing Elio to abandon his twin sister Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) sooner than planned.
Writer-director Lucy Mulloy's feature debut works best in its documentary-esque snippets when her hand-held camera observes the life and music on the streets as Raul and Elio move through the city, revealing a black-market economy built on bartering and theft. Raul is magnetic, attracting unwanted affection from all the ladies he encounters and inspiring handsome Elio to leave his beloved sibling behind.
However, when the film shifts to Lila, who intermittently (and unnecessarily) narrates, melodrama worthy of a Cuban telenovela takes over. For most of the movie, she's passive, watching as her unhappy parents bicker and her besotted brother moves on from their laborious life. As she waits for something to happen, the plot stalls.
Still, moving performances from "Una Noche's" charismatic non-pro cast, Mulloy's keen eye for visual detail and stunning cinematography by Trevor Forrest and Shlomo Godder of Cuba's turquoise water exploding against the sea wall offer a compelling portrait of a population decrement via the Florida Straits.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles. Also on VOD.