Kaveh Nabatian’s “Sin La Habana” is a study in contrasts: the sticky, vibrant heat of Cuba’s capital versus the pulverizing winter of Montreal; a spontaneous street performance versus the rigid formality of a ballet studio audition; a planned marriage versus an impulsive romance.
The story of Leonardo (Yonah Acosta) — an Afro-Cuban dancer who seduces an Iranian Canadian tourist, Nasim (Aki Yaghoubi), into a sham marriage with the hopes of securing passage to Canada for himself and his girlfriend (Evelyn Castroda O’Farrill) — is a familiar immigrant tale with predictably disastrous results. Upon moving in with Nasim, his new wife, Leonardo finds that life in the north is not only difficult to adjust to, but not nearly as liberating as promised, as he faces the same racism at dance studios and workshops that drove him to leave Cuba in the first place.
Nasim, suspecting that her connection with Leonardo may have been fraudulent from the beginning, nevertheless tries to build their relationship and defend him from her insular Iranian family and ex-husband. And in his absence, Leonardo’s girlfriend, Sara, sacrifices their future together in order to get a leg-up in her career as a lawyer.
Nabatian is sympathetic to all three characters and their lack of easy choices, and his eye for small cultural details and rituals — the intricacies of Afro-Cuban dance, the tiles on the floor of a Havana apartment, the teacups at a gathering for Nasim’s family — enforces how identity continues to shape their lives even as they’re far from home. While the fate of their relationships is left ambiguous, these transient moments linger long after Leonardo has performed his last dance in front of the camera.
Sin La Habana
Not rated. In Spanish, English and Persian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Rent or buy on most major platforms.