“Sin Alas” (“Without Wings”) director and writer Ben Chace’s moving and lush new feature (shot on 16mm by Sean Price Williams), parallels the past and present (and the beginning of an unexpected future) of a Havana writer, who was a young child when the revolution began, with that of Cuba.
Traveling in the territory of the (very) famous Faulkner quote, Chace seamlessly shifts between a 1950s dreamscape in Hershey (a company town built in Cuba by the American chocolate giant), the difficult realities of contemporary Havana, and a reverie, scenes of a 1967 short-lived but passionate love affair between Isabela Muñoz (Yulisleyvís Rodrigues) a lovely, renowned (and married) dancer and an idealistic young writer, Luis Vargas (Lieter Ledesma). Decades later, reading Isabela’s obituary, Luis (Carlos Padrón) is powerfully drawn back to that time and to his vivid memories of the woman he never stopped loving.
With the song from one of Isabela’s performances suddenly lodged in his head, Luis enlists his musician friend Ovilio (Mario Limonta) to help him recover its name. In a wonderful series of scenes, the men take to the bustling Havana streets, and with a background of historical architecture and American cars from the 50s, engage fellow Cubans, whose daily lives are filled with music. A professor, hearing the tune in the street from her apartment, invites Luis and Ovilio upstairs and identities the song.
Unable to undo his past, Luis is sensitized to the familial and economic forces that are destroying his young neighbor Katrina’s marriage to Yuniesky, a man her grandmother rejects. Property laws are changing and in an act of extraordinary generosity, Luis tries to to repair their present sorrow and short circuit future longing.
“Sin Alas” (one of the first American productions shot in Cuba in more than 50 years) opens today at Metrograph, and a Q&A with Ben Chace, Lieter Ledesma, composer Aruán Ortiz and critic Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero will follow the 7:30 pm show. There will also be a Q&A on Thursday, May 5, after the 8:00 pm show, with Ben Chace, Lieter Ledesma, and Valerie Forman, Professor of Caribbean Studies at NYU Gallatin and on Monday, May 9 with Ben Chace, following the 7:00 pm screening . The film is also available on Amazon and iTunes.