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FILM REVIEW | Yuli

★★★★ | Yuli

Famous Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta plays himself in a beautiful drama/documentary about his life as a ballet star as well as his life growing up poor in Cuba.

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‘Yuli’ – the nickname given to him by his father Pedro – is very unique in its storytelling. It not only goes into detail about his struggle to become a ballet dancer, but the film also deals with his relationship with his family, his home country of Cuba, as well as the troubled relationship he had with his father. Scenes of the adult Acosta are interspersed with scenes of his childhood, with Edilson Manuel Olbera more than ably playing Acosta as a young boy in a poor area of Havana with his family and separated parents who still live together.

Cuba is also a star of the film. There are beautiful shots of the Malecon (a broad road esplanade hugging the coastline in Havana), old yet beautiful architecture in Havana, long shots of the city streets, and a stunning finale shot of the famous Great Theatre of Havana, where a young Acosta learned ballet.

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Members of Acosta’s family ended up fleeing Cuba for the United States. Yet Yuli’s parents continued to urge him to dance, and they, along with ballet teachers, saw something special in him. He gets chances to go to the best ballet schools, ending up in both the U.S. and then in London, where he became a permanent member of The Royal Ballet for 17 years. Keyvin Martinez plays Acosta as a young man, a man who misses home and almost decides to give it up all just so he can return to his beloved Cuba (and mom).

There are lots and lots of beautiful dance scenes that impact the viewer on what a beautiful, stunning and amazing are that ballet is. The dance scenes are transitional – these dance scenes guide us from one scene to the next, and this works beautifully. And Acosta, as an actor, is very good at playing himself.

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Yuli is such a beautiful film – it’s an event film that is beautifully directed by Icíar Bollaín, but this is Acosta’s film.  What Yuli doesn’t do is to convey how famous Acosta was during his heyday. Sure he is world-renowned for his dance work, but the film doesn’t really convey this, nor does it show much of Acosta interacting socially with fellow dancers, most of whom are gay (Acosta is straight). But these are just minor blips. ‘Yuli’ is a film that can be enjoyed whether you love ballet or not. 

Yuli now playing at a cinema near you.

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