Sombras de Azul (Shades of Blue) (Kelly Daniela Norris, 2013): Cuba

Reviewed by Daniel Chein. Viewed at SBIFF.


When a young filmmaker embarks on making their first feature film, a common trend is to base it on something that actually happened to them in their life. I don’t think it is a mistake to base a film on your aspects of your own life or people you know (after all, what are you drawing from if not your life?), but I do think producing a thoroughly developed film requires you to step away from your personal experience to be able to approach it critically,  with less attachment to that experience. This can be especially difficult when the experience has to deal with tragedy, as chances are the memory of it is still emotionally charged and present. And while producing a film about it may (or may not) be a positive coping mechanism, the audience does not sympathize with you, the filmmaker, the audience sympathizes with the characters in your film. To me, this means the filmmaker should only come back to it once they are ready to tell a story, not just their own story as it was, but the story that best suits the narrative through a filmic medium.

Directed by Kelly Daniella Norris and starring Seedne Bujaidar, Sombras de Azul is a film dealing with how someone grieves and copes with a tragedy. After her brother commits suicide, Maribel travels to Cuba, a place where her brother always wanted to go, from Mexico. With her, she brings some of his belongings and the memories they shared together in hopes to experience the foreign land vicariously through her brother’s perspective. But once she gets there, her brother’s experience soon becomes her own, as she meets Eusebio (Yasmani Guerrero) who shows her around Havana as a way to make up for trying to steal her camera. Through trying to reconnect with her brother, she inspires Eusebio to reflect on his own mother’s passing and reconnect with his brother.

Here’s the point: the film doesn’t have a compelling narrative arch. Just because the subject is dramatic does not mean the film is. Just because the location is set in Cuba does not make the story itself more interesting. They can add to the allure of a film, but a good film is dependent on a strong narrative. The motif that drives the film forward is voice over narration by Maribel to convey her inner thoughts. Film is a medium of showing, not telling. The travelogue-esque narration is eloquently written, but the film relies on this too much to create an emotional appeal. I think that the story could have used more moments of direct conflict between Maribel and the memory of her brother. Maybe Maribel could have done something that was not true to her brother’s image, and that fleeting image of her brother could confront her instead of always having his back turned, eluding Maribel.

Despite my criticisms, Daniella Norris was still able to accomplish a lot with her first film. Bujaidar is her cousin and for her debut as an actress, the acting wasn’t half bad. Also, the producer was able to manage the production in a country that probably wouldn’t have allowed a feature film to be shot without all of the permits and permissions in order, which they were not.

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