Judge Joel Pearce was left nonplussed by this Cuban drama/romance/comedy/musical.
"I've come and gone from this office for five years without knowing anything about anyone. Without anyone knowing anything about me."—Carla
Although Nada+ is ultimately unsatisfying, it's simply too dynamic, infectious, and fun to get a completely negative review.
Facts of the Case
Bureaucracy is a frustrating and funny thing, which turns out to be true in Cuba as well. Carla (Thais Valdés) is a bored post office worker in Havana. Her parents want her to get an exit visa so that she can join them in Miami, but she is content to remain in Cuba, keeping to herself and committing mail fraud.
Well, she isn't really that much of a criminal, but she does steal letters sometimes. Carla opens them and rewrites them in passionate prose to improve the lives of the recipients. When the head of the post office is replaced by a vicious overlord, Carla needs to find more creative ways to sneak the letters out. She's forced to turn to Cesar (Nacho Lugo), a handsome young delivery boy who initially wants no part of her scheme.
If nothing else, Nada+ is an astounding visual experience. The film is shot in black and white, but certain objects leap out in vivid color. It's almost like the effect in Sin City, though in a film you can watch with your mother. The choice to film Cuba in black and white is an interesting one. The vivid colors of the Caribbean are often highlighted in films from this part of the world, and with good reason. The effect works well here, though, immediately drawing the eye to key objects on screen. I think this is meant to be a statement about Cuba, that the situation there has dulled the natural beauty of the land. The people need to be reminded that they live in such a vivid place. Carla's actions bring color into the lives of the people who receive her letters.
Some of the satirical elements of Nada+ also work really well. Carla and Cesar become heroic figures, undermining the corrupt bureaucracy to bring happiness to the lonely and unhappy masses. She is almost a Robin Hood figure, but as a poet rather than a fighter, using hope rather than money. The level of security in this tiny post office is funny but sad, as the workers are monitored like criminals. Is mail theft that big of an issue in Cuba? I don't know, but I find it hard to fathom. Not everything works quite as well. There are a number of jokes in the film that I see but don't understand. Every one of the characters has a name that starts with "C," but I don't know what the significance of that is. As well, although some of the characters are stereotypes that everyone can relate to, some of the characters are too strange for words. Are people being parodied? Are they stock characters from Cuban theater? Much of Nada+ feels like a private joke that we aren't in on.
Nada+ is also wildly schizophrenic in nature. The love story is sweet and delicate, as both Carla and Cesar are well-rounded, natural characters. The business at the post office is wildly manic, though, with splashes of music and bursting visuals. At times, I found this too much to bear, as though the Three Stooges had suddenly shown up in a gentle romantic comedy. Many other critics have compared this film to Amélie, thanks to their similar lead characters and unique visual construction. Jean Pierre Jeneut was able to juggle the humanity of Amélie with the dazzling visuals, though, a combination that gets awfully muddled in Nada+. When it suddenly turns into a political allegory at the end, urging Cubans to stay and make their country a better place, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Even the most dynamic films can use subtlety to make a point, and should.
First Run Features has done an acceptable job releasing Nada+, although it lacks the context needed to present the film to a North American audience. The video transfer obviously comes from a cheap stock, and lacks the gloss of a Hollywood production. Still, despite some print flaws and softness, the visual effects come through clearly and vividly. The sound transfer is strong, using a clear stereo track to pass on the dynamic soundtrack, dialogue and effects. The film begs for a surround sound track to do justice to the manic mix, but alas, it was not to be. The English subtitles are burned in, and are only occasionally hard to read against the light backgrounds.
I was very excited when I looked at the list of extras and saw an entry called "Film in Context." After all, that's exactly what Nada+ and so many other foreign films desperately need. I clicked on the link to discover that this section has nothing to do with the film whatsoever. Instead, it's a brief text entry from the CIA Factbook, covering Cuban history and geography 101. The other extras are as bland, consisting of a brief biography of director Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti (who has two names starting with "C") and a photo gallery. The Global Lens collection deserves some more valuable bonus features.
Nada+ is a tricky recommendation. Adventurous people on the lookout for something completely different will find a lot to like about it, and anyone with an appreciation for visual style will agree that it's a pretty film to look at. Most people will be frustrated by its lack of clarity and consistency, though, so a rental is probably your best bet.
Since Nada+ is so distinctly Cuban, I have no choice but to deport it back home for a fair trial.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Film in Context
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