×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Un Traductor’

A fact-based tale plays like maudlin fiction in this tale of Chernobyl victims being treated in 1989 Havana.

Director:
Rodrigo Barriuso, Sebastian Barriuso
With:
Rodrigo Santoro, Maricel Alvarez, Yoandra Suarez, Nkita Semenov, Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera, Genadijs Dolganovs, Milda Gecaite, Osvaldo Doimeadios, Eslinda Nunez. (Spanish, Russian dialogue.)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4488744/reference

It’s not often a Sundance premiere evokes memories of no less than “Patch Adams,” but unfortunately that comparison is hard to avoid with “Un Traductor.” Siblings Rodrigo and Sebastian Barriuso’s first feature feels maudlin and contrived, even though it’s based on their own father’s experience as a translator assisting Havana hospital staff with Ukrainian patients in a children’s ward after the Chernobyl disaster. This drama’s combination of the slick and crudely string-pulling may seem an awkward fit for Park City, but Brazilian star Rodrigo Santoro’s presence should boost its chances in the more commercial settings where it belongs.

In 1989 Malin (Santoro) is a professor of Russian literature at the University of Havana, living a comfortable life with his art-curator wife, Isona (Yoandra Suarez), and young son Javi (Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera). One day he and other department members are mysteriously relieved of their teaching duties — because, it turns out, they’re urgently needed as translators in dealing with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, some of whom have been flown here to relieve Soviet medical resources overburdened by the crisis. (An end title notes that this program continued as late as 2011.)

Assigned a night shift in a children’s ward under supervising Nurse Gladys (Maricel Alvarez), Malin is initially appalled by this unasked-for obligation, which consists largely of telling bewildered adults that the condition of their frightened offspring is terminal. When the kid he first interacts with dies a day or two later, he angrily storms out. Still, “I quit” isn’t really an option. (Asked what authority he can plead to, Gladys snaps, “Call Fidel.”) Rallying, he’s soon holding a daily story time for the ward’s small residents, and becoming so emotionally involved that he begins seriously neglecting his own family.

The pathos of children wasting away in a medical facility far from home is so innate that “Un Traductor” only required tasteful restraint to successfully lay siege to the tear ducts. Alas, the directors and scenarist Lindsay Gossling go in the opposite direction, making every heart-tug and plot device as portentously obvious as possible. Apart from the predictably lachrymose ward sequences, Malin’s escalating conflicts with wife and son have a pat, soap-operatic feel. Additionally, the background of drastic political change (as the USSR’s demise deprives Cuba of its greatest economic support) is portrayed without any particular insight.

The film’s glossy veneer (why does humble academic Malin live in such posh digs?) further works against the raw emotions of its subject, and pacing is often slack. The performers are adequate but too often required to speechify toward one another, each occupying the indignant high moral ground without grasping that their viewpoints aren’t actually in conflict.

While one can excuse some of “Un Traductor’s” decisions as intending to ennoble the directors’ father, the film dwells overmuch on Malin’s saintly self-sacrifice, as if his suffering were somehow more profound than that of the afflicted or their families. Santoro responds with a humorless, preening performance that is not among his best.

Those who don’t mind a little — or even a lot — of by-the-numbers sentimental manipulation will probably find this a moving experience despite its flaws. For the sake of such less discriminating viewers, however, it was probably a tactical error to include the intel (among too many closing texts) that the directors’ real-life parents divorced a few years later — news that quite sours the formulaic reconciliation their dramatized counterparts have just enjoyed.

Film Review: 'Un Traductor'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 16, 2018. (In Sundance—World Dramatic.) Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (Canada—Cuba) A Creative Artisans Media and Involving Pictures presentation. Producers: Sebastian Barriuso, Lindsay Gossling. Executive producers: Gossling, Louis O’Murphy. Associate producers: Karen Harnisch, Alejandro Valbuena.

Crew: Directors: Rodrigo & Sebastian Barriuso. Screenplay: Lindsay Gossling. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Miguel Littin-Menz. Editor: Michelle Szemberg. Music: Bill Laurance.

With: Rodrigo Santoro, Maricel Alvarez, Yoandra Suarez, Nkita Semenov, Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera, Genadijs Dolganovs, Milda Gecaite, Osvaldo Doimeadios, Eslinda Nunez. (Spanish, Russian dialogue.)

More Film

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

  • Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala

    Inside amfAR's Cannes Gala: Mariah Carey, Kendall Jenner and Tiffany Trump

    Kendall Jenner caused a commotion when she arrived. Tiffany Trump went unrecognized until a member of the press pointed her out as she made her way down the carpet. And Mariah Carey flew in to perform a couple of songs. Welcome to this year’s AmfAR Gala Cannes, the AIDS organization’s annual — and largest — [...]

  • 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo' Review: Abdellatif

    Cannes Film Review: 'Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo'

    A simple but somehow atypical shot opens Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film: a serene closeup of a young woman’s face, as seen through the camera lens of Amir, a budding photographer still finding his perspective. Her expression is ambiguously tranquil, her long hair lightly rustled by a humid breeze, all softly lit by a sinking afternoon [...]

  • Crown Vic

    Thomas Jane's Police Thriller 'Crown Vic' Sells to Screen Media (EXCLUSIVE)

    Screen Media has bought North American rights to writer-director Joel Souza’s police crime-thriller “Crown Vic,” starring Thomas Jane and Luke Kleintank. The distributor closed terms during the Cannes Film Festival amid a competitive bidding situation between seven other suitors. Screen Media plans to release the pic this fall. “Crown Vic” premiered in April at the [...]

  • Colleen Bell

    Colleen Bell Replaces Amy Lemisch as California Film Commission Director

    Veteran entertainment executive and ambassador Colleen Bell will replace Amy Lemisch as director of the California Film Commission. Bell, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, has worked as a consultant since 2017. She was the U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2014 to 2017. She held several positions at Bell-Phillip Television Productions, including [...]

  • Jon Feltheimer

    Lionsgate Posts Loss, Underperforms Wall Street Expectations

    Lionsgate has posted a quarterly loss and its revenues and operating income have come in under Wall Street projections, despite growth from its premium cable channel, Starz. The studio reported a net loss of $24 million, or 11 cents a share, with adjusted operating income of $103 million for its fourth fiscal quarter ended March [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content