YULI: Inspiring Carlos Acosta biopic

Yuli is an unflinching biopic inspired by the life of renowned Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Raised by his neighbourhood in Havana, Carlos finds success when his father (played by Santiago Alfonso) notices his dancing talent and forces him to attend Cuba’s National Dance School. Despite his reluctance, he triumphs as a dancer, making history in the process.

Director Icíar Bollaín masterfully chronicles moments from Carlos’ past and present to form a different kind of biopic –– a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction. Where other biopics can feel like the retelling of a story at its end, this film catches Carlos in his prime.

We begin at Yuli’s dance company in Cuba as he prepares with his students for a showcase, one that tells the story of his upbringing and rise within the dance world. We are cast back to his early days and meet a young Carlos, played by newcomer (Edilson Manuel Olbera).

As the film progresses, we are introduced to Carlos as a young man (Keyvin Martínez) making a name of himself in the ballet world. The highs and lows of his career are shown to us through elaborate dance sequences from this present-day showcase. It’s all very meta. And while the intercutting has the potential to pull you away from the story, it also helps drive the emotional tone of the film.

You can certainly feel Paul Laverty‘s writing at work. Having previously worked on I, Daniel Blake, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and My Name is Joe, Laverty admits he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to pull it off: “I have never done an adaption before and Carlos’ book, No Way Home was published over 10 years before. I felt in my bones we needed something more so I went to Havana to watch Carlos rehearse for two weeks with his young dance company. Up close, they blew my mind. […] So we thought, why not dance some of his life, and why not have Carlos play himself. Use this raw talent!”

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