Past dominates present in Sin Alas, writer-director Ben Chace’s 16mm ghost tour of Havana. The film concerns a septuagenarian named Luis who never got over the otherworldly ballerina he fell for upon seeing her perform decades earlier; after learning of the dancer’s passing in the present day — he still peruses the obituary section of the newspaper, perhaps for just such an occasion as this — the aging romantic embarks on a quixotic mission to distinguish memory from dream and come to terms with what actually occurred.
Luis has less than total recall, and details of his brief love affair with the married woman are hazy, but his feelings remain as vivid as ever. The love story, populated by spirits and dreamers, is almost ethnographic in its docu-realistic account of Havana, with grainy visuals provided by Sean Price Williams.
The characters’ melancholy eccentricity, as well as Chace’s directorial playfulness, at times makes Sin Alas feel like the work of a magical-realist Wes Anderson, though the film itself claims a different pedigree: It purports to have been inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths and “embellished by the poetry” of Cuba’s José Lezama Lima.
This vibrant blend is often enough to carry it through its narrative valleys, as Chace is more skilled with ideas than he is with plot. Sin Alas matches the half-awake feeling evoked by Luis’s ruminations — on love, on Cuba’s history, and on himself — well enough to feel authentic even when it meanders too far from what makes it most compelling.
Directed by Ben Chace
Franklin Avenue Films
Opens May 4, Metrograph