Yuli – The Carlos Acosta Story
Born and raised in the impoverished suburbs of Los Pinos, a young truant’s future was set to look bleak. Carlos Acosta (Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez, Keyvin Martínez and Carlos Acosta) would spend his youth breakdancing and loitering in the streets of Havana instead of attending school, which compelled his father, Pedro (Santiago Alfonso), to send the boy off to ballet lessons in a bid to curb his wildness. Though reluctant at first, having much preferred to play football with friends, Carlos – nicknamed “Yuli” – would eventually succumb to Pedro’s demands and begin regular training, leading him to become one of the greatest dancing sensations of his generation and inspiring others to do the same.
Based on Carlos Acosta’s 2007 autobiography No Way Home: A Cuban Dancer’s Story, Yuli, a beautiful docudrama from director Icíar Bollaín, captures the ballet star’s tale as he journeys from his humble beginnings in Cuba to Europe and America, wowing audiences all the way. The film opens with an adult Acosta choreographing his own life as a ballet recital in Havana, before incorporating poignant memories of his childhood through flashbacks, such as when he was beaten by his father and attacked by his dorm peers for stealing. This is all played out through dance with enormous precision and strength – largely thanks to Paul Laverty, whose artistic screenplay uses the recital as a device with which to connect Acosta’s past with the veteran dancer he has become today.
Yuli captures life under Castro’s rule, though this does not politicise it. The film also features vital moments that had dictated the country’s history at the time, notably those pertaining to the massive exodus of Cubans during the early 1980s, with which Acosta’s biography coincides, in order to highlight the adversity that this young man had been made to face, both at home and abroad, whilst striving to forge his dancing career.
With incredibly natural performances all round, particularly from newcomer Núñez, whose innocence as the precocious and angel-faced Yuli makes for a captivating watch, the film is a work of wonder for it blends the themes of love, family, race, identity, sacrifice and hope so neatly together, ultimately showcasing itself as a study of humanity and endeavour. Yuli is not just any old rags-to-riches story; it’s the tale of an individual who, despite being the great-grandson of a slave and having all the odds against him, fought his way to the top whilst never once forgetting who he was and where he came from.
Yuli – The Carlos Acosta Story is released in select cinemas on 12th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Yuli – The Carlos Acosta Story here: