Sundance 2018 Review: UN TRADUCTOR Pulls The Right Heart Strings
There's an inherent risk in making films based on real stories.
Seasoned cinephiles and film buffs will know that the promise is never fulfilled' as we later dive into Wikipedia, we notice how many inconsistencies and liberties were made regarding the true facts of human beings who walked this Earth and that lent (or not) the happenings in their lives for our entertainment, may that be of any quality.
Yet, the issue with Un Traductor is different, as its two directors are brothers (Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso), but they're also the sons of the protagonist of the film, giving the entire enterprise a much more luminous perspective, as well as an assurance that the events will be as truthful as they can be to the real events that they themselves lived with in some way or another.
The film takes place in the critical year of 1989, when the world was starting to change to how it looks right now in terms of political factions and events to come. In Cuba, it's no different, the fervor of communism, revolution and freedom from capitalism still runs free in the people who vitor the arrival of the latest Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachov.
Among the people receiving such illustrious visit in the streets of La Havana is Malin (played by Rodrigo Santoro) with his son Javi. They arrive home where Malin's wife Isola (Yoandra Suarez) to receive them. He is a teacher of Russian literature at the University while she is an art curator. Their relation goes along well until Malin's given the notice that Gorbachov didn't come alone.
In a faraway hospital still in construction and constant renovations, dozens of children victims of the Chernobyl incident are being treated as part of a pact made between the ally countries. Malin is called by high authorities to assist that hospital and serve as a translator (traductor in Spanish) for the parents and the children so they know the advance of the therapy that's being done by Cuban doctors and nurses. He is under the command of an Argentinian nurse named Gladys (Maricel Alvarez) who travelled there escaping the fascist military dictatorship of her country. Malin doesn't take the orders too kindly, but for him there's no other choice, as they came from high above (even might come from Fidel himself).
The film moves forward with the internal conflict of Malin as he finds himself constantly saying to parents that their children might not survive and the hours that he has to work at night, not finding enough time to be with his son. We see him trying to quit, to find a way to cope with the inherently deppressing ambience of the hospital, and thus he finds a way to translate popular Cuban short stories to Russian so he does a storytime at the hospital every night, or he makes activities for the children to tell or draw their tales. All this is happening while the Berlin wall falls and the support of the Soviets diminishes, yet it's only through the strength of the Cubans that they are capable of maintainign their project forward.
The film turns a bit dramatic and mopey when it tries to equate the efforts of Malin with the wants of his family, who need him just as much as the children who are sick. The film lingers a bit too much on the ends of conversations, as if it were the cue for the audience to cry, but at least the intentions and the events are real, they are manipulative but not dishonest in the way that other recent films might end up being.
Un Traductor quietly pulls the strings without employing overbearing music as much as it uses the strength of its actors to portray the internal turmoil of Malin and all those who surround him. The film beautifully portrays the coldness of the hospital, and manages to find warmth in the white faces of the Russian children that are suffering. The film may become a tear jerker as it approaches its end, but it manages to do it in a way that makes it worth it.