Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sin Alas: Lost Love in the Lost City
Vargas is as broken-down as the city he lives in: Havana, Cuba. Inside, he has
been dead for years, ever since the great love affair of his life ended badly.
However, news of his very former lover’s demise spurs him to action in small
but significant ways. Memory is exquisitely painful in Ben Chace’s Sin Alas (trailer here), which opens
today in New York at the Metrograph.
narrative is sort of a riff on Borges’ short story “The Zahir,” but do not
judge yourself too harshly if you fail to immediately pick-up on it. However,
you should recognize the streets of Havana in all their crumbling decrepitude. Sin Alas was the first American
production officially allowed to shoot in Cuba since 1959, so what Chace lost in
conveniences (like the ability to watch dailies) he gained in authenticity.
is indeed Cuba, where people regularly risk their lives to come to America and
those who remain use the word “Revolutionary” as hollow but mandatory affectation.
That includes Vargas, who was actually born a class enemy but stayed after the
revolution to “see where things would go.” Despite his suspect background, Vargas
became a prominent cultural reporter, which is how he met Isabella Munoz, a
ballerina married to a high-ranking officer in the new regime.
he is one of the few people in Munoz’s orbit who can talk about art and culture
without curling his lip in contempt, a forbidden romance quickly percolates
between her and Vargas. Of course, the stakes are high. Her jealous husband could
probably murder Vargas with impunity (especially considering Che did away with
the bourgeoisie practice of holding trials). Love is not running smoothly for
Vargas’s current housemates either, thanks to Katrina’s severe grandmother, who
refuses to let Yuniesky, her pedicab driving husband, live with the rest of the
many ways, the dead past continues to corrode the present throughout Sin Alas, just as it often does in
Borges’ oeuvre. Working on Super 16m, Chace and accomplished indie cinematographer
Sean Price Williams capture all the decaying grunginess of modern day Cuba with
their washed-out looking palette. They also frame wide shots of the
city-by-rooftop that evoke the look of Rio’s favelas. Yet, most striking are
the flashbacks to 1967, which have a wonderfully stylish black-and-white noir
look. We sort of wish these interludes would never end, but alas . . .
native Cuban cast always look legit, because they are, but their collective skill
level is a bit inconsistent. At least Carlos Padrón is rock-solid as Vargas,
while Mario Limonta steals scene after scene as the former journalist’s crony.
They have a terrific sequence together scouring Havana for old-timers who might
know the tune literally haunting Vargas’s dreams.
is sort of surprising Cuba okayed Sin
Alas, because Munoz’s husband is no people’s hero. However, it is quite
potent as a tale of lost, lingering love (although the Katrina-Yuniesky subplot
is much less compelling). Aruán Ortiz’s distinctive classically-flavored
Afro-Cuban soundtrack further heightens the elegiac vibe. It is all a rather
impressive production, especially considering its limited resources. Recommended
for those with a taste for nostalgic melancholy, Sin Alas opens today (5/4) in New York, at the Metrograph.
Labels: Aruan Ortiz, Cuba