Director Icíar Bollaín’s powerhouse storytelling (aided with a script by Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty) aside, the sheer athleticism of the ballet performances featured in Yuli is reason enough for a cinema ticket.
The biopic follows the life of decorated Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, and exists as a stunning embodiment of perseverance told through the art of cinema and dance.
Acosta’s trajectory – from misbehaving youth, one set against the impoverished backdrop of post-revolution Cuba, to principal dancer across various renowned ballets – is impeccably told through a series of flashbacks interjecting with a present-day Acosta (portrayed by the real-life Carlos Acosta) choreographing his life.
A large portion of the film focuses on a young Acosta and his complicated relationship with his father Pedro (heartbreakingly portrayed by Santiago Alfonso). Carlos, who is of African and Spanish heritage, remembers a man whose support was just as encouraging as it was belligerent.
Pedro had pushed his son into ballet not as a means of exploitation, but as an escape from a country unwilling to provide equality to people of colour.
Bollian proves non-judgemental as a director. She commands astounding performances from the cast and allows the struggles of the time, both from the perspective of a father and a son, to highlight the complexities of their relationship. Her approach is carefully layered and never verges on manipulative.
How Acosta’s childhood is recreated into dance is nothing short of exquisite. Moving back and forth between the present and past is seamlessly rendered with Acosta proving masterful in his ability to communicate through movement. He is a polished and seasoned performer with his performance in Yuli a testament to his ability as a storyteller. It is an achievement that gathers support from Academy Award-nominated composer Alberto Iglesias’ commanding score which inherits all the sensibilities of a dramatic ballet.