The most haunting aspect of Iciar Bollain’s ‘Yuli’ is how the filmmaker finally places in front of us the question most artists struggle with: Should you live your life doing what you are meant to do, or should you choose to live your life doing what you wish to do?
It’s a question as old as life itself and to me, the commonplace description “struggling artist” never really meant the financial struggles faced by most young artists, rather the struggle those who create, anything, and everything must feel inside. When it’s a beautiful day outside, the artist is usually inside, practicing his or her craft. When it comes time to form a family, or a simple life around themselves, they must own up to the art first. While most looking in from the outside see only the acclaim and bed of roses, the thorns of being an artist are much more plentiful and painful.
Nowhere and never before has this struggle been made so beautifully clear as in Bollain’s film about Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta. His love for his native Cuba, his own family at home and his desire to enjoy life were antagonized by his incredible talent. His father Pedro noticed early on that Acosta was a dance phenomenon and so, to this little boy with little regard for discipline, he became, as we so horribly yet perfectly say in the US, “the party pooper” — the destroyer of fun.
Yet Pedro Acosta knew better. In retrospect, and through Bollain’s film, we see how Carlos Acosta became one of the best classical dancers the world has ever seen, compared often to Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov — undoubtedly two of the most perfect leading men in ballet. Acosta’s clean lines, musical body and well acted romantic portrayal of the male characters in the dance world, like Prince Siegfried in ‘Swan Lake’ and Basilio in ‘Don Quixote’ helped him to become the very first man of color to perform the part of Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the Royal Ballet in London.
You see, fathers, like mothers, always know best.
‘Yuli’ is told through a series of flashbacks that are inspired by the big red book of reviews and articles about Carlos that Pedro Acosta compiled throughout his son’s career. It is also told while we follow a ballet that has been choreographed by Carlos Acosta and I believe I recognize his nephew Yonah playing the young protagonist… So much is about family in Acosta’s life and ‘Yuli’ remains true to his ideals.
With a beautiful script written by Paul Laverty of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ fame, ‘Yuli’ is the wondrous journey of an exceptional man told through dance, which takes us to the heart and soul of an artist who finally shows us something we seldom see about artists in the movies — their vulnerable humanity.
It’s not all dance performances, applause and signing autographs, rather a life of many long hours of sacrifice, practice, pain and doubt, and oh-so-much loneliness.
‘Yuli’ premiered at this year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival as part of their official selection.