NADA (Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, 2001)

The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Carla Pérez is lonely in Havana. A postal worker, Carla contests the doldrums and habitual power outages at home by appropriating scores of letters, and reading and revising them before sending them on their way, to help out, she maintains, the people involved. (What Carla reads, we see imagined in priceless vignettes.) The bane of her existence is her supervisor, who suspects something is going on. This woman cuts the difference between terrorist and by-the-book bureaucrat.
     Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti’s Nada+—the U.S. has adopted the title that Spain has given the Cuban film—is fresh, exhilarating and full of visual invention, in the manner of Buster Keaton’s 1924 Sherlock Jr. (to which Carla’s boyfriend’s flight from trouble on a bicycle in traffic pays homage) and Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966). Its black-and-white images are sparked by bits of color (an orange pencil, a yellow flower, etc.) until one late, full-color shot stuns with sudden richness and beauty. Bits of animation also (delightfully) figure in, as well as speed-motion and unexpected sounds in lieu of certain voices, but the actors themselves, along with Malberti, supply most of the film’s slapstick comedy. Satirizing bureaucracy, Nothing (or Nothing More) variously makes us laugh hard and thoughtfully chuckle.
     Carla and a younger co-worker become girlfriend and boyfriend some time into the film. Life is looking up! However, Carla’s Castrotted parents, exiles in Miami (where else?), have entered her name into the lottery for an exit visa, and Carla eventually must decide whether to remain in Cuba or leave. She explains to her boyfiend, “I’ve never won anything before.” Malberti toys with our heart a bit (a minor lapse), but when Carla makes the right decision, choosing love, solidarity and some measure of self-determination over the alternatives, whatever your politics you cheer.
     I hope!

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