Yuli  The Carlos Acosta Story




The Spanish filmmaker Icíar Bollaín offers a biopic of special appeal to ballet fans.


Films that dramatise the lives of dancers are a rare breed so it is rather remarkable that within a short space of time we should have two of them. Only a month ago it was the turn of Rudolf Nureyev in The White Crow and now comes The Carlos Acosta Story otherwise known as Yuli. This is a film by the Spanish director Icíar Bollaín working from a screenplay by her husband Paul Laverty still best known for his collaborations with Ken Loach. Since Bollaín made her name with dramas unconnected with the world of music (2003's Take My Eyes being the finest), it is perhaps surprising to find her making a film in which dance is prominent. However, Spanish cinema offers a striking precedent in the case of Carlos Saura who, late on, unexpectedly took a fresh turn in his career and gave us some films based entirely on music, not least his magnificent dance film Blood Wedding made in 1981.


Rather oddly, The White Crow not only chose to concentrate on Nureyev's early career but almost put dance to one side to give us a character study. That was in contrast to the 2018 documentary Nureyev and, despite the fact that Yuli is not a documentary, it is nearer in its aims to that work than it is to The White Crow. For Yuli is indeed a full biopic covering the life and career of Acosta to date. It's a work in which the dancer plays himself in the present day scenes but leaves the more substantial acting to the excellent Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez who appears in the episodes concerned with his childhood and to Keyvin Martinez who portrays him as a young man. His father, well played by Santiago Alfonso, is a major figure in the film and a scrapbook about his son becomes a link enabling the movie to move back and forth between the present and the past when the young Acosta was always known as Yuli.


Pleasingly photographed in colour and 'Scope by Alex Catalán, this is a film of immediate appeal but it becomes less effective later on. There are two reasons for this. As a narrative, the film shows Yuli forced into becoming a dancer by a father who loves him but who can be dictatorial and a harsh disciplinarian too. This leads to Yuli eventually submitting but feeling lonely and distressed when dance takes him away from his Cuban home. Some of this is conveyed in the film but a later rebellion when Yuli was already a young man is abruptly set aside here and a rushed narrative bypasses an offer received from the Houston Ballet to jump straight to Carlos as a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London. One feels here and in the portrait of Acosta's tragic half-sister Berta that only part of the story is being told.


The second failure comes from the contrived use of dance in the present to comment on Acosta's past. Sometimes even using intercutting, these sequences on occasion show Acosta himself representing his past through dance, while at other times another dancer is used to do this. This can be rather confusing and it echoes the much more seriously misguided use of dance to illustrate personal history that featured in Nureyev. However, in Yuli, this element is subsidiary to the standard biopic approach and much of that works very well.




Cast: Santiago Alfonso, Keyvin Martinez, Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez, Carlos Acosta, Laura de la Uz, Yerlin Pérez, Mario Elías, Andrea Dolmeadíos, Carlos Enrique Almirante, Héctor Noas, Mario Guerra.


Dir Icíar Bollaín, Pro Andrea Calderwood and Juan Gordon, Screenplay Paul Laverty, inspired by the life and autobiography of Carlos Acosta No Way Home, Ph Alex Catalán, Art Dir Laia Colet, Ed Nacho Ruiz Capillas, Music Alberto Iglesias, Costumes Jessica Braun, Choreographer María Rovira.


Morena Films/Potboiler/The Match Factory/BBC Films/Creative Scotland-Modern Films.
111 mins. Spain/UK/Germany/Cuba. 2018. Rel: 12 April 2019. Cert. 15.