Miami 2020 Review: THE LAST RAFTER, The Search for Home
For years, many Cubans risked life and limb to cross the near 200-kilometre stretch between their island and the United States, in motorboats, row boats, and handmade rafts. A particular policy, colloquially named ‘Wet Foot Dry Foot’, allowed Cubans a faster path to US naturalization that people of other nations. This is a risk that Ernesto decides to take in order to find his long-lost father. But unbeknownst to Ernesto, that policy was revoked mere days before his arrival. And so he is The Last Rafter, the first Cuban to have to the same undocumented status as other Latin American immigrants who cross unofficially.
Directors Carlos Rafael Betancourt and Oscar Ernesto Ortega follow Ernesto as he navigates his new life: navigating the complex and harsh immigration system, finding friends old and new, perhaps finding love, and most of all, finding his father, whom he thought until recently was killed in a war, and about whom he has little and perhaps false information. The freedoms that America promises might be overwhelmed by the difficulties in establishing a life.
Ernesto (Hector Medina) doesn’t get off to a great start (having to literally sing for his supper), but he does find his old friend Ale (Néstor Jimenez Jr.) who is able to house him temporarily. Ale can also help Ernesto with his investigation, which starts at a gay café. There, Ernesto is befriended by Lenin, who takes a fatherly shine to the boy and offers to assist him in finding work. And Lenin then introduces Ernesto to his friend Lucy, who take a different kind of shine to him.
Ernesto doesn’t necessarily have a problem if his father was gay, but he wants to know where his father is so he can confront him about his life. And Ale seems to have secrets of his own, especially about how he uses and possibly abuses undocumented workers. Ernesto might be an educated man, but the blissful ignorance he has of those Cubans who have settled in the US is tested; not all or noble or have the best intentions towards their fellow immigrants.
This isn’t just a film about the immigrant experience; it’s also a film about Miami. It’s the shining city of dreams to so many Cubans, with a strong and vital community; but there is an underbelly: one filled with those who would exploit, those who continue to suffer, or those who must hide even if they seem to be in a safer place.
Ernesto’s journey is portrayed as arguably somewhat easier at first (at least he is able to find friends quickly), but The Last Rafter doesn’t shy from exposing both the good and the bad, exploring the negative and positive of Cuba and America, and how our place is found not so much with a nation, but with people.