Film Movement DVD Review: Un Traductor (2018)

Now Available

Bookmark and Share

"Are you a doctor already?"

Having quit medical school after one semester to become a professor of Russian language and literature, the last place that Cuban academic Malin (Rodrigo Santoro) thought he’d end up was a hospital.

"I’m working on a doctorate," he tells his young son Javier (Jorge Carlos Perez Herrera) who's just as confused as he is when Malin's classes are suddenly canceled by the government. "I'm not a doctor."

Assigned to work as a translator for the Soviet patients and families of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster who've been sent to Cuba for treatment, to say that Malin is out of his depth is an understatement, especially after he learns that he's been assigned the children's ward.

Forced to explain to a mother that nothing more can be done for her daughter his first night on the job, Malin initially walks away from his assignment working alongside Gladys (beautifully played by Maricel Álvarez).

A nurse who's a fellow outsider simply because she's from Argentina, after Malin learns that Gladys has covered for him when his absence is reported to the ministry, he returns to the hospital and gradually begins to apply the same tactics he uses as a professor and a father to his work with the children.

Bringing in some of Javier's favorite books for story time to give them an escape from the gloomily lit green-gray hospital, Malin also provides the children with an outlet for their feelings by inviting them to-write or draw on the back of what we gather are the pages of his long in process thesis.

Refusing to either play up the tragedy of the heartbreaking situation or paint Malin as a Patch Adams style saint, which is quite a feat considering that the film was directed by the real life Malin's sons – Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso in their feature filmmaking debut – the multilayered award-winning Cuban-Canadian feature is filled with complexity.

Exacerbated by his schedule as he works all night and sleeps all day, Malin starts to see the world with the same life or death urgency of the hospital while going through an existential crisis of his own. Shutting out the world which, with the fall of the Berlin wall has brought hunger and a gas shortage to Cuba, Malin's pregnant wife Isona (Yoandra Suárez) is forced to juggle all of the duties of the household and try to take on the role of both parents to Javier.

While everything comes crashing down on the characters all at once in a predictable third act dramatic conflict, screenwriter Lindsay Gossling gets credit for not only expanding Un Traductor's point of view but also reminding the viewer that the myth that we can have it all isn't gender specific, as the formerly devoted husband and father starts neglecting his wife and son.

Belittling his wife's work as an art curator by contrasting it with the hospital – somehow forgetting his own background in the humanities as well – the filmmakers foreshadow some of the drama to come onscreen and off for Malin and Isona.

An involving chronicle of an ordinary man trying to make a difference on the most basic human level, although Un Traductor's ambition gets the best of the film at times by touching on socioeconomic and historical subplots that it never fully explores, it's still an impressive achievement, not to mention an all-around terrific feature filmmaking debut.

Though universal in its appeal overall, Rodrigo and Sebastián Barriuso's film is nonetheless hindered by the fact that its success is dependent upon how much you know about that era in history.

Relying on big historical events like the fall of the wall to deduce the year the film takes place, while the absence of specifics only strengthens the hospital arc by highlighting the way so many strangers work side-by-side to save a life, at the same time its lack of context in framing it for today's audiences does lessen its reach.

Instantly transporting the viewer to Cuba, M.I. Littin-Menz's stellar cinematography effectively illustrates the contrast of life for Malin in and outside the hospital at the end of the cold war.

Featuring a tender, moving performance by Santoro alongside a strong supporting cast (including a memorable Nikita Semenov as one of the young patients), Un Traductor is newly available on DVD and digital from Film Movement and will be premiering on Film Movement Plus in the future.

Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.