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Two documentaries – Happy Sad Man and Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story

These two documentaries opened on 31 October 2019 in limited release. Both are worth searching out.

Happy Sad Man

An empathetic look at a number of ordinary Australians struggling with mental health issues, Happy Sad Man is a beautifully composed and moving documentary.

The focus is on five men aged from their 30s to 70s, but in addition several people who they know and interact with also speak.  John – the biggest influence in making this doco – is a charming, quick-witted, challenging and creative musician and bush carpenter born and raised in Toorak, who has travelled across Australia. Now he is most at home when growing vegetables away from the city. Four other men from diverse backgrounds also feature.

Director Genevieve Bailey is also the cinematographer and narrates. She endeavours to build an understanding of who these people are and what makes them tick, so much so that we build an affinity for them. I cared what happened to them. Each face challenges.

Part of the beauty of Happy Sad Man is that it shows that many of those suffering mental health conditions can be anyone. They are not people who need to be shunned, rather given a helping hand from time to time.

Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story

Yuli is the nickname given to Carlos Acosta by his father, Pedro. From a young age, Acosta fled any kind of discipline and education. The streets of a run-down neighbourhood in Havana was where he learned most of his schooling. But Pedro knew his son has natural talent and forced him to attend Cuba’s National Dance School. Against his will and despite his initial indiscipline, Acosta ended up being captivated by the world of ballet. He often broke taboos. He was the first black artist to dance the role of Romeo in the Royal Ballet in London, where he forged a legendary career as a principal dancer for 17 years.

Writer Paul Laverty and director Iciar Bollain deal with two realities. The first is Acosta’s childhood and youth. The second is the present, in which the dancer and choreographer works with his company in Havana, rehearsing a work that tells his life story.  Three actors fill the title role of one of the finest ballet dancers of a generation, among them the real Carlos Acosta. Another re-enacts his journey in balletic form. Despite how complicated that sounds, it all works seamlessly, drawing you in to Acosta’s life story.

This is a movie full of raw emotion and each representation of Carlos plays parts of his story well. Most noteworthy are Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez as the cheeky young boy and Acosta himself as the deep-thinking choreographer, reflecting on a troubled past. He, in tandem with his younger adult protege on the dance floor, is something mighty special.

Laverty and Bollain have crafted a compelling narrative, which moved me to tears.

Alex First

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