Tackling a film about Cuban athletes, without submerging the audience with a tidal wave of political ideas about the country and its infamous dictator, takes a great deal of patience and maturity from a filmmaker (or in this case, filmmakers). “Boxers and Ballerinas” was made by a filmmaking team – Mike Cahill and Brit Marling – and this is a debut for the both of them. They chose the correct path by letting the four characters they follow tell their own stories, without cutting away to personal opinion or rant. Sure, the infamous Fidel Castro and his dictatorship and crazy laws gets brought up but only when the characters bring it up, not the filmmakers. Dealing with today’s biased media, it’s a welcome change.
It must be a nerve-racking experience to shoot in Cuba and try to get public opinions, when your speech there really isn’t free. Seeing some of the interviewees asking to turn the cameras off, wakes you up to stuff taken for granted in the United States on a daily basis.
“Boxers and Ballerinas” tells the story of four proud Cubans, two still in Cuba and two in the United States, that care for nothing other than being true to themselves. The sport they chose, whether it be boxing or dancing, is what they are best at and they see themselves doing nothing else.
Two characters left Cuba at a young age and currently live in Miami. Sergio, 21, learned to fight young. It’s the typical “I got beat up young and had to learn to fight for myself” cliché but when it comes from a real person, it’s much more interesting. Paula shares a talent with her mother, Rosario Suarez, and she faces the choice of either following her dreams of dancing with the Washington Ballet in DC, or staying in Miami and dancing for her mother in programs that offer the smallest financial backing possible.
The most interesting angle of the film is from the other two characters living in Havana. Their decisions are a lot more challenging. The boxer, Yordenis, wants fame, and with fame, comes the option of escaping Cuba and communism. Annia, the ballerina, actually has the opportunity to travel out of Cuba. With that, she could ultimately defect from her country, yet it could cost all of her family contact.
The first 20 minutes of the film, are the toughest to deal with. As the story goes from Cuba, to Miami, then back to Cuba, while juggling each of the characters, it almost seems too hectic. Even the names of the characters are subtitled often during the exposition, as if to make sure the viewer has a grasp of what is going on. Thankfully, it doesn’t last and once it slows, the film is full of striking images of Cuba and an equally pertinent soundtrack that mixes well between the characters.
“Boxers and Ballerinas” is full of exciting ideas and touching stories with equally engaging and relatable characters. Each conflict (and the set of results that could stem from them) is understandable and sometimes scary.