Review: Yuli (2018)

Yuli (2018)

Directed by: Iciar Bollain | 104 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Carlos Acosta, Santiago Alfonso, Keyvin Martínez, Edlison Manuel Olbera Núñez, Laura de la Uz, Yerlín Pérez, Mario Elias, Andrea Doimeadiós, Cesar Domínguez, Yailene Sierra, Héctor Noas, Carlos Enrique Almirant

‘Yuli’ is a colorful biopic based on the life of Carlos Acosta, a Cuban ballet phenomenon and the first black soloist with London’s Royal Ballet. Starring none other than Acosta himself.

The opening scene of the Cuban film ‘Yuli’ is surprising: we see recognizable images of Havana, sometimes even stereotyped, of the Malecón (the boulevard), the typical stately but peeling buildings, political slogans that adorn the walls, children in school uniforms , classic cars and elderly people in parks, but we hear a classic waltz instead of the well-known son of salsa. The scene ends with an adult dancing entering a beautiful theater to begin rehearsals for a piece. It turns out Carlos Acosta, born in 1973 in the Cuba of the revolution, and – willy-nilly, as it turns out – has become a global star and the first black solo dancer at the Royal Ballet in London, where he would become soloist and star dancer until 2015. stay.

The images of the adult Acosta – who turns out to be practicing for a performance about his own life – are interspersed with the story of his youth, what seems to be his own memories of the road to the glorious life he was to lead. It didn’t seem that way for a long time. As a boy, Carlos – called Yuli by his father – also loved dancing, but on the street, imitating the movements of the then popular Michael Jackson. His father – ambitious, persistent, sometimes tyrannical – wants the best for his only son, wants a better life for a black boy in poor Cuba of the 80s and 90s, and sends him to one of the best dance schools in the world. the country. The school management immediately sees it in the young talent – ​​despite (or because of) his audition in which he again dances as Michael Jackson – but the rebellious Carlos himself does not like a career as a ballet dancer: he resists the discipline of the school, does not come show up at performances and walk away from rehearsals.

We see how, against his own expectations, he is eventually seized by the world of dance, and with a lot of support from motivating teachers, he becomes one of the best dancers in Cuba, including the first black Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. would become.

The special thing about Acosta’s story is that it transcends the private: his life parallels the history of Cuba – and shows how that history lives on in the different decades. From the colonial and slavery past to the revolution, the socialist years to the poor and isolated 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The sparkling biopic, directed by the Spanish director Icíar Bollaín, is based on the memoirs of ‘Yuli’ herself. Maybe that’s why the film remains quite safe, and certain scenes feel a bit sentimental. The difficult relationship between Carlos and his hard, traumatized father – who as a grandchild of enslaved people had no chance in Cuba – is central, and despite the violent passages ends in an emotional catharsis. His mother, on the other hand, barely has a sentence of text; she is mostly in tears. The best scenes are those about Acosta’s early years, in which the young dancer and actor Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez as Yuli takes center stage. His energetic movements combined with his intense gaze and generous smile make every scene with him a magical one.

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