Malin’s life gains new meaning when he is abruptly plucked from his career as a Russian Literature professor at the University of Havana and unexpectedly tasked with a gut-wrenching new job in Un Traductor. He has been assigned to the children’s ward of a local hospital that is treating victims of Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster. Every night, he leaves his family to translate oftentimes tragic news given by Cuban doctors to these distraught Russian families.
Rodrigo Santoro is mesmerizing as Malin. We see him gradually slip away from his wife and son as he becomes increasingly consumed by the devastating grief of watching these innocent children demise before his eyes. Nurse Gladys (remarkably portrayed by Maricel Álvarez) snaps him out of a defiant state of self-indulgent wallowing by reminding him that those innocent children did not choose to be in that hospital either.
“…leaves his family to translate oftentimes tragic news given by Cuban doctors to these distraught Russian families.“
Once Malin gets over himself, they become his purpose and he does everything in his power to bring them joy and peace. He playfully reads to them and gets them to open up by encouraging the children to express their feelings and share their stories through journals and drawings. Unfortunately, raising the children’s spirits comes at the expense of his own neglected family.
What makes this film even more compelling is the fact that it is based on a true story, that of the filmmakers’ father. Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso artistically bring Malin’s experience to life after years of suppressing the sadness and pain it caused him. The bright, lively, musical and beautifully captured spirit of Havana starkly contrasts the darkness that looms over Malin and the hospital.
Santoro’s extraordinary portrayal of Malin’s vulnerability, frustration, and empathy draws viewers in. We sympathize with him despite his familial transgressions. Each Russian child’s plight is captivating and harrowing. The Barriuso brothers succeed in creating a film that is equally heartbreaking and inspiring.
Un Traductor (2018) Directed by Rodrigo Barriuso and Sebastián Barriuso. Written by Lindsay Gossling. Starring Rodrigo Santoro, Maricel Álvarez, Yoandra Suárez. Un Traductor screened as part of the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.
4 out of 5 stars