Nada+ is “Cuba’s answer to Amelie”, commented Miami Herald, and that’s the best way to sum up the movie from a review point of view. So what’s common between Amelie and Nada+ – they are both stories about girls on a mission to straighten up people’s lives when their own lives are a bit chaotic. But to think of Nada+ as a replica of Amelie would be a mistake. Every film has its own soul, even though it may appear similar to another on the surface, and Nada+ has its own...
Nada+ is “Cuba’s answer to Amelie”, commented Miami Herald, and that’s the best way to sum up the movie from a review point of view. So what’s common between Amelie and Nada+ – they are both stories about girls on a mission to straighten up people’s lives when their own lives are a bit chaotic. But to think of Nada+ as a replica of Amelie would be a mistake. Every film has its own soul, even though it may appear similar to another on the surface, and Nada+ has its own. None as magnanimous as Amelie though.
Carla (Thais Valdes), a worker in the Cuban Post Office leads a dull life after her parents have fled to US. She spends days rather mechanically stamping thousands of letters arriving at the post office until a fortuitous day when she spills coffee on a letter, and tears it open to assess the damage. As she goes through the ill-written letter from a girl student to her teacher, professing her love (and her inability to attend his classes because of her strong attraction for him), she decides to do the girl a favour and give the letter a bit of a makeover. Thus starts her romance with a unique kind of writing – giving a passionate and intense soul to the lifeless words exchanged between people via letters.
An estranged father and his daughter, forbidden lovers, a frustrated psychologist-cum-TV anchor, a forlorn woman who’s loved and lost – no one is spared from the intensity and kindness of her “righteous” fraud. Her mellifluous, poetic words seem to work like a magic potion on those who are blessed enough to read them and find a new meaning to life. If words could speak, then her words sing to those who read them, often finding what they’ve been pining to hear from their loved ones.
Carla becomes an anonymous saint, a guardian angel for those who have found love and solace in her words. If the professor (the object of a student’s affection) is drawn by the magnetism of her words, the psychologist Calzado finally embraces his loneliness, and admits that he is as unhappy as his uninterested viewers. Although not all the unsuspecting beneficiaries of her kindness benefit from her endeavors, most find peace in her words. However, her own love life is in doldrums, as the one she loves seems to be oblivious to her presence. Her colleague Cesar (Nachi Lugo), a mail delivery boy, listens to metal and rock on his obsolete walkman oblivious to the sighs of Carla’s heart. Carla does manage to catch his eye eventually, but she also catches the attention of her new boss - postmistress Cunda (Daisy Granados) – an austere martinet who suspects her employees of pilfering “invaluable” items like stamps, envelopes and the likes.
Cunda particularly detests Carla and keeps a close watch on her - for this she takes the help of Carla’s sycophant, cross-eyed colleague Concha. Realizing she’s being spied on, Carla still manages to sneak out letters, but she now has to take Cesar into confidence, who, initially hesitant, agrees to become her accomplice. Over a period of time, both of them fall in love with each other while helping others. But fate has other plans for the do-gooder; Carla gets her visa to United States - Something she’s been dreaming of since her parents left, only now she has found a reason to stay back in Cesar. Things get more complicated when Cunda catches Cesar and Carla red-handed with the letters. But like most tales, this one ends nicely too with Cunda getting holed up in a hospital after a rather hilarious accident, and Carla trading a comfortable life in the US, with a fulfilling one full of love in Cuba.
The best part about this film is not its plot or characters (unlike Amelie which was in most parts, exceptional), it is the cinematography. The entire movie is shot in black and white and the movie has been painted frame by frame (an extremely tedious process). He has also employed the time-lapse technique sparingly. In addition, Malberti has experimented well with occasional splashes of colored objects that leap out in scenes (orange pencil, flower and other objects against black and white backdrop). It could have been done in order to accentuate them, or simply to infuse some fun. Some animations are thrown in too, to give it a humorous, childish twist that many would relish. Oh, I must add here that Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti is color-blind.
The Cubans are shown as mostly depressed people, who are looking for a way out of their misery. Also, Malberti has certainly highlighted a certain ambiguity about Cubans – they want a better life, but they somehow believe in Cuba and its people too. Carla and to some extent, Cesar are the saviors, but they aren’t without issues either. Says Malberti, “Carla is similar to Amélie or to Dora in Central Station, in that they are people who help other people; they aren't struggling against others." (Source: Cine Las American, April 18, 2003 - The Asian Chronicles). He doesn’t try to glorify them, but they are some sort of unknown heroes, surrounded by buffoons like a senile old woman (who talks rapidly and endlessly about a stalker), a crazy mailman, a mad psychologist, a goofy, cross-eyed Concha, etc, all who need help.
There are also subtle but lucid political overtones in this film – in the beginning, Malberti tells us that Cuba is the only country, “that can count on a specific visa allotment” from the US. Moreover, every character’s name starts with C – Carla, Cunda, Cesar, Concha. Cuba starts with a C too. Any connection there? Perhaps. Malberti loves his country and he’s shown it rather subtly. He has painted a better picture of his country than most would like to believe (Not to say Cubans don’t live well – they have the best medical facilities in the world, and let’s not forget Cuban cigars!). However, he does allude to the authoritarian nature of his government as well. The post-office is strongly supervised and controlled by Cunda (the villain, if I may call her so), who represents the political party and is called a comrade in the true Communist spirit. Cunda is a stickler for discipline, much like the government she represents. All said and done, his Cuba is also not as scary as many in the northern hemisphere in that part of the world would like to believe.
This hilarious farce of a film does manage to tickle you in a tantalizing manner, without completely ignoring the somber aspects of reality. However, one of the major problems with Nada+ is that the point it tries to drive home is almost garbled and lacks “stickiness” – for all you know, you could be watching a Charlie Chaplin flick with a little more meaning, beautiful poetry and subtitles and subtle humor.
As a film, Nada+ could have easily been an A+ for its innovative cinematography and HQ (humor quotient), but overall, I’d settle for an overall B+. If you’ve watched Amelie - a far better film - you can skip this one if time’s not a luxury.