Part mystery, part love story, director Ben Chace’s “Sin Alas” explores the labyrinths of our own memories.
The film is set in Havana, Cuba and starts with main character Luis’ (Carlos Padrón) discovery that his former lover, a famous dancer named Isabela (Yulisleyvís Rodrigues), has died. After attending her funeral, Luis finds himself haunted by dreams of her on stage in the 60s. Upon waking he’s left with the fragments of a melody stuck in his head.
He confides this in his friend Ovilio (Mario Limonta) and together they decide that if Luis could hear the melody in its entirety, he might be able to relax and sleep peacefully once more. The pair travels through the streets of Havana playing the melody over and over, asking every passersby whether they recognize the tune. When they finally find someone who knows the composition, the scene shifts and he’s transported back in time to memories of the affair he had with Isabela in 1967 while he was working as a journalist.
There’s a subplot in the film that focuses on the conflict of another family living in the apartment building Luis inherited from his parents. Their story interlaces with Luis’ struggle to prove to the housing board that he is the apartment’s rightful owner and serves as a vehicle for flashbacks of his parents in the 1940s and Luis’ childhood in the town of Hershey.
As the film progresses Luis is drawn further and further into his memories of the past, until eventually he remembers the parts of his childhood, and of his affair with Isabela, that he had tried to forget. As his memories unfold, it is revealed that the injury that caused the end of Isabela’s dancing career occurred when her husband discovered her affair with Luis. When he finally relives the end of their affair, Luis revisits her grave and apologizes to her spirit, confessing the guilt he felt for years over her fate. The film ends with Luis transferring ownership of the apartment building to his neighbor, leaving his own fate uncertain.
The film was inspired by the works of author Jorge Luis Borges, and follows the labyrinthine style for which Borges is known. “Sin Alas,” is also the first American directed feature film to be filmed in Cuba since 1959 and was shot in Super16 millimeter on location in Havana and Hershey.
The narrative and cinematographic style slowly draws you deeper and deeper into Luis’ memory, and taps into the Cuban subconscious. Cinematographer, Price Williams makes clear distinctions between the time periods that are portrayed; the modern day scenes are shot the most traditionally, while the 60s scenes are colored in a hazy light, reflective of the optimism surrounding the revolution. All the 40s scenes are in black and white, emphasizing the time period as a more “classic” Cuba in Luis’ mind. The film beautifully captures not only Luis’s story, but also glimpses of three separate moments in Cuban history.
Sin Alas premiered at the LA Film Festival June 11, 2015
Written & Directed By: Ben Chace
Starring: Carlos Padrón, Yulisleyvís Rodrigues, Mario Limonta