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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Review: Yuli

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Icíar Bollaín directs a biopic on Carlos Acosta, achieving little more than a conventional portrait of an unconventional life, short on risk and narrative arabesques

Review: Yuli
Carlos Acosta in Yuli

The eclectic and surprising official selection of the 66th San Sebastián International Film Festival has brought together everything from the hallucinogenic excesses of In Fabric [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Peter Strickland
film profile
]
to more workaday offerings, such as Yuli [+see also:
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
, the latest film from Madrid-born Icíar Bollaín, which follows the box-office and critical success of The Olive Tree [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
. The duo behind the 2016 hit, formed by the director of Even the Rain [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
and her partner, Paul Laverty (born in India to an Irish mother and a Scottish father and a frequent collaborator of Ken Loach), have joined forces once again to transpose Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta’s autobiography onto film in No way home.

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Flanked by a first-rate team including photography director Alex Catalán (Marshlands [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alberto Rodríguez
film profile
]
) and musician Alberto Iglesias (Julieta [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile
]
), Bollaín dashes off a high-quality and glittering biopic, yet one that lacks the verve, emotion and energy expressed in the various dance numbers that are worked into the plot, performed by dancers transfigured into actors for the occasion (including Acosta, playing himself). These moments dedicated to music and dance profit from the advice of choreographer María Rovira, and they are by far the most spectacular, moving and genuine sequences in a film that never quite manages to convey the authenticity, tenacity and sorrow of its subject’s nomadic existence.

That’s a great shame, because Acosta’s life and career contain plenty of enticing material. Fiercely opposed to his father’s dream of turning him into a dancer, he was forced regardless to study ballet, whisked away from the streets of Havana to eventually emerge as a global phenomenon. This strained, ambiguous and contradictory father–son relationship at the heart of Yuli is portrayed in the film in such a simplistic, one-dimensional and unsatisfactory way that it fails to impress us with the full emotion, duplicity and complexity it calls for.

Not even the loneliness of being so far from home, another dramatic element that might have breathed force and feeling into this true story, really comes across on screen. It’s just as well that the aforementioned dance numbers, representing key moments in Costa’s life, elevate the artistic, visual and emotional calibre of a film that never quite finds its wings — a polished piece of cinema with box-office ambitions but little in the way of cinematic pizazz.

Yuli was produced by Juan Gordon of Morena Films and Andrea Calderwood of Potboiler Productions, in conjunction with Galápagos Media, Hijo de Ogún A.I.E.(Spain),Producciones de la 5ta Avenida e ICAIC (Cuba) and Match Factory Productions (Germany), in association with BBC Films and Movistar+. The Match Factory is managing international sales, while Entertainment One (eOne) will distribute the film in Spain, where it will be released on 14 December 2018.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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