Saturday, April 12, 2008

HFFNY: Innocent’s Night

The Havana Film Festival NY is based in New York and accepts films from throughout Latin America. Yet for some reason, the organizers chose to closely identify the festival with Cuban films. Be that as it may, hopefully it will be an opportunity to see some great cinema.

The festival opened last night with Innocent’s Night, which was an odd choice for the kick-off, probably selected for its Cuban pedigree. Innocent demonstrates that Cuba can indeed do Sundance-style quirkiness. It is a rainy December 28th night, and a severely beaten man in drag is admitted to the hospital. Soon family and friends gather around him to reveal the events of the night Rashomon-style. Piecing their stories together is Frank, a suspended cop forgoing his usual late night assignation with the duty nurse, in the hope that some on-spec police work can rehabilitate his career.

The film quickly assures us the beaten Federico is not really a transvestite—events simply conspired to force him into drag. It involves his attempts to win back a former girlfriend from a foreign businessman. There is little politics in Innocent, but it does hint at how drilled the Cubans are to present the right public face to foreigners. We do hear the businessman blame the American embargo for his financial woes, but he does not get a sympathetic response. We are also treated to a quick recap of the glorious history of Cuban Olympic boxing.

Most of the characters have been seen before, like a cold, career minded father and the mother who feels unappreciated. The young actress who plays the patient’s little sister should defect when Ellen Page gets too old to play those oh-so-insightful teenagers.

Innocent is dark quirky, not cutesy quirky, that is cleverest in its final scenes. It deserves credit for not wrapping things up in a compulsively happy ending, which gives the film some sense of integrity. Unfortunately, there is little chemistry between the Federico and his ex, which is problematic.

Interesting viewing, Innocent kicks off a line-up drawn from many countries. Look for more HFFNY in the coming week.