Sin La Habana: Review. By Sarah Buddery.
Directed by Kaveh Nabatian, Sin La Habana (Without Havana) tells the story of Leonardo, an ambitious classical dancer. Along with his girlfriend Sara, the pair find themselves frustrated by Cuba’s closed borders, and their desire for a better future for themselves leaves Leo to pursue Nasim, a tourist whose taste for the exotic may just provide Leo with his ticket to freedom.
It is evident that Nabatian has a background in music, as particularly the early Cuba-set scenes of this film have the stylistic qualities of music videos, and that is absolutely intended as a compliment. He is a director that clearly knows and understands light, movement and choreography, and there is a visual flair to Sin La Habana that makes it almost hard to believe the fact that this is his feature film directorial debut.
It is a construct of the narrative itself, but where perhaps this film suffers is the fact that the characters of Leo and Sara are distinctly unlikeable. Whilst we understand their frustration and their desire to leave in search of a better life, it doesn’t necessarily excuse their selfish actions, which come at the expense of Nasim, the innocent party caught in the middle of the love triangle.
It’s not completely absent, but something that could have given the characters more depth, would have been to explore the prejudices and mistreatment they received both at home and abroad. As Black Cubans, Leo and Sara are frequently sidelined and treated differently because of their heritage, and aside from a few run-ins with the classical dance elite, this theme isn’t explored as thoroughly as it could’ve been. Their story is not one that is often told on screen so it is slightly frustrating that when given the opportunity, these themes are a little thin.
One of the best things about the film is how it is able to capture it’s two very distinct settings. Beginning in Cuba, there is a palpable sense of heat, and a warm vibrant energy, however when the setting switches to Canada, you can almost feel the chill, and the warmth is replaced with a darker colour palette. It is interesting that this shift occurs where it does, as the whole notion of the film is that leaving Cuba is supposed to offer hope and opportunity, and yet the reality is very different.
A strong first feature from a director who clearly has a lot of promise, Sin La Habana is a visually arresting film which uses interesting angels and filming techniques to it’s great advantage, and what it may lack in thematic exploration, it more than makes up for in style.
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